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Three months after a top Philadelphia Inquirer editor resigned over a headline reading “Buildings Matter, Too,” journalists of color say efforts to change the culture at the 190-year-old media institution are still lagging.

In a public report card titled “Transform the Inquirer,” the group pressed leadership to take action on steps to improve diversity and equity.

The initiative is backed by the Philadelphia Association of Black Journalists (PABJ) and the local chapters of the Asian American Journalists Association and National Association of Hispanic Journalists, the groups said in a joint statement.

“[O]ur newsroom was one of the first at a major news outlet to take action this spring to demand better of our company during this nationwide call for revolutionary institutional change,” the journalists said in a joint statement published Thursday. “Now we’re encouraging The Inquirer to be a leader in communicating to the public how it intends to answer this call.”

Leadership at the Inquirer told Billy Penn the organization has taken steps to demonstrate its “commitment to change.” The newsroom at Philly’s paper of record has wrangled with diversity and equity issues before, landing on the receiving end of complaints about both coverage and workforce.

The company has not published updated diversity statistics, according to Transform the Inquirer, which reports that the newsroom is currently 74% white and there are no reporters of color on the investigative team.

In a unique arrangement, The Inquirer is owned by the Lenfest Institute, a nonprofit local news booster that lists diversity as one of its core principles. (WHYY has received funding from the Lenfest Institute, as has PABJ.)

“I think we strongly believe in transparency as journalists and we also believe strongly in the mission of the Inquirer as a public benefit corporation,” said Tim Tai, a photographer and organizing staffer. “Which means we — the Inquirer collectively — ought to be accountable to all of the diverse communities of Philadelphia.”

Heading on the ‘Transform the Inquirer’ site Credit: Screenshot

Staff-led anti-racist reform efforts have sprung up at journalism institutions across the U.S. in recent months. A New York Times opinion editor stepped down after outcry, the editor in chief of Philadelphia magazine is resigning, and Post-Gazette employees voted to strike over unfair labor practices.

At the Inquirer, the current push for change took hold after it published an article about buildings damaged in Philadelphia late May and early June, when a sweep of protests against systemic racism and police brutality surged through the city and nation. Its printed headline, “Buildings Matter, Too,” was seen by many as trivializing the Black Lives Matter movement.

Immediately following, 44 Inquirer journalists of color published an open letter demanding change, and staged a one-day work stoppage during which they “called out sick and tired.”

A day later, The Inquirer issued a formal apology. Days later, executive editor Stan Wischnowski resigned.

On the Transform the Inquirer website, organizers published five action items for the Inquirer to commit to — the same demands they say were presented in an internal memo on June 8. So far, newspaper leadership has either rejected or offered no commitment to three of those five items, according to the website.

Those actions are:

  1. Give journalists of color a seat at the table if and when the Inquirer moves to replace former executive editor Stan Wischnowski.
  2. Conduct a pay equity study and fix any disparities found in pay for women and journalists of color. A pay equity study is underway, the site says, but management has not committed to fixing any disparities.
  3. Hire an editor of color for every newsroom desk.

The paper is currently working on an audit of any disparities in news coverage and sourcing, and diversity inclusion training, according to Inquirer Vice President of Diversity and Inclusion Michael Days

Days maintains the company has taken steps to address many of the journalists’ concerns, including the aforementioned news audit, conducted by researchers at Temple University, as well as an overall review of newsroom culture.

“That work, which involves outside facilitators, is being done jointly by staff and managers and includes 70 members of the newsroom,” Days said in an emailed statement. “There is much to do but these actions — and those to come — demonstrate a commitment to change.”

Ernest Owens, vice president for print at PABJ, said the initiative’s organizers and supporters are tired of waiting on Inquirer bureaucracy.

“There’s been just so many meetings and we just don’t believe that the intentions are urgent enough,” Owens told Billy Penn. “We don’t think that the intentions are as honest and as urgent as they need to be.”

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Layla A. Jones

Layla A. Jones (she/her) was a general assignment reporter for Billy Penn from 2019 to 2021. Her work has helped underserved community organizations, earned free repairs for property owners who sustained...