It’s been an interesting couple of years at The Philadelphia Inquirer. There have been layoffs, buyouts, lawsuits, and a resignation stemming from festering discontent that finally boiled over when some poor editor published a story titled Buildings Matter, Too (which was actually a very interesting Inga Saffron read that was buried completely in the avalanche of criticism over the insensitive headline).
There’s an open revolt taking place within the newsroom as we speak, and now we’ve got an official platform for those grievances, with employees of color launching a website called “Transform the Inquirer,” which lays out the complaints with a corresponding call for action.
There are five major demands listed:
- We must have a seat at the table if someone will replace [former Executive Editor] Stan [Wischnowski].
- We must conduct a pay equity study to identify disparities by race and gender and fix them.
- We must undertake a comprehensive review of our coverage, past and present, and commit to more equitable treatment.
- We must undergo substantive training for everyone in the newsroom.
- We must commit to adding an editor of color to every desk in the newsroom.
Under each of those bullets is a progress report, of sorts, explaining where Inquirer leadership currently stands. There does not seem to be much forward movement.
Below the list of demands is a section on diversity, which reads, in part:
Many other news organizations, including the New York Times, the Washington Post, the Los Angeles Times, and all Gannett-owned papers, voluntarily publish staff demographic information as part of public diversity reports. The Inquirer has so far not done so.
We have compiled available newsroom diversity data, and we continue to call on The Inquirer to independently publish these numbers, along with audience and subscriber demographics.
These numbers only tell part of the story. For instance:
-The Inquirer has no Black and/or Latinx journalists covering health, science, and local or state politics full-time.
-The Inquirer does not have a single full-time opinion editor or writer who is a man of color.
-The Inquirer has zero investigative reporters and editors of color.
And below that is a list of graphics showing race and ethnicity demographics within the Inquirer, and how that breakdown compares to the City of Philadelphia and the eight surrounding counties.
It’s well-done and well-presented, but speaking honestly, the issue here is that the Inquirer has a lot of existing problems, namely how to keep a legacy newspaper afloat in 2020, when people get their news online, or cultivate individual feeds via social media. As such, the Inky has tried pretty much everything to generate revenue while still putting out a physical product in a day and age where you can go to Twitter to get immediate updates on what Doug Pederson said at practice. The paper still has a lot of talented people who do very good work, but consumer trends have evolved at a pace which the Inquirer hasn’t been able to match.
That’s not meant to discourage BIPOC Inquirer employees, I’m just saying that the paper has so many outstanding issues that you probably aren’t going to get what you’re looking for, at least not right away. If you want more editors of color, for instance, the Inquirer simply is not going to add those jobs in bulk, not when they’ve spent years making cuts and trying to get their financials straightened out. Opportunities are more likely to come via buyout, layoff, retirement, or somebody leaving for another job. And a lot of the older, whiter people at the newspaper are fellow union members who ain’t going anywhere, so it’s not like the NewsGuild is just going to come in and say, “old dinosaur sports editor, you’re out, we’re replacing you with a 25-year-old black man.” The newspaper might benefit from something like that, but organized labor means change often comes via attrition while linear Stan Wischnowski situations are few and far between.
But who knows? Obviously the challenge facing the Inquirer is multifaceted and perhaps there will be wholesale changes to preserve Philadelphia’s premier legacy media outlet and carry it into 21st-Century sustainability.