On a January Zoom call that included about 90 people, leaders at the NewsGuild of Greater Philadelphia criticized the Philadelphia Inquirer’s top sports editor, Mike Huang.

“Please be assured that if there was a public enemy number one, it is Mike Huang,” one officer said on the call. “We are, on many fronts, trying to do something about that. What everyone on this call should know, is that he has told his people that the guild does not have their interests at heart. He is a union hater. He wants a war with the union, he’ll have a war with the union.”

“We are clearly aware, as you know, that we have a problem at the sports department,” a staffer added. “There is no secret. We have a manager that’s out of control, we have a manager that’s abusive, we have a manager that’s a liar. And we are acting on it as we speak. We know he doesn’t tell the truth.”

An employee also chimed in on the membership call, which was later sent out to more than 200 people currently working at the Inquirer.

“What he’s doing to people is unforgivable,” they said. “Our jobs are tough enough right now. They don’t need to be made tougher. This is not a good human being.”

Strong and pointed words, but what gives? Why does the NewsGuild have it out for the guy?

We asked around, and in the process spoke with 10 Inquirer sources in various departments, asking them 1) to explain the conflict and, 2) if NewsGuild criticism was fair. Some of what we were told overlaps with various Inquirer topics we’ve reported on over the years, but a couple of new things were brought up in conversation, adding new information for this story.

For background, Huang came to the Philadelphia Inquirer in April of 2021, replacing longtime sports editor Pat McLoone. At the same time, out went a number of veteran white reporters with voluntary severance agreements, along with editor Stan Wischnowski, who resigned after the paper published a headline at the height of the BLM movement that said “Buildings Matter, Too.” When employees revolted, the Inquirer commissioned a study from Temple University, which said the paper was too old, too white, and not doing enough to represent communities of color in the region. Huang was asked to reshape the sports department with a digital focus, and hire a new crop of writers to address the diversity issue.


1. discrimination grievance

We’ve reported in the past on a pay dispute that was unable to be resolved and went into a long arbitration process instead.

What happened was this –

When the new wave of DEI-driven hires was made after the employee revolt, robust salaries were attached to the job offers, in order to attract people who were pre-identified to fill these roles. In one case, a less-experienced white employee was given more money than a more-experienced black employee, which resulted in the NewsGuild filing a grievance. Unable to reach a settlement via CBA procedures, the dispute instead went to arbitration, and took more than a year to resolve.

In the end, the more experienced employee was given a pay raise, rectifying the discrepancy and closing the case. We were also told that the less-experienced employee later received a raise of their own, not as a result of anything related to the grievance, but as a counter-offer to keep that person from leaving for a new job.

We’re told that in addition to the imbalance created by the hiring wave, some existing folks were annoyed when they found out that their applications for open roles weren’t considered because those jobs were being filled by new hires who were pre-identified. Essentially, they thought they had a shot at promotion, but were never actually in the mix.

2. demotion and reassignment

Sources described to us another guild issue stemming from the demotion of a writer, whose reassignment resulted in a shift in hours and, ultimately, a pay reduction.

The demotion was chalked up to lackluster performance, and the employee was taken off their beat and told they would be subjected to a performance improvement plan. The rebuttal, we were told, was framed around a lack of communication, with the employee arguing that they were never told of any problems with their work. The NewsGuild filed a grievance on behalf of that reporter, and after a meeting with all involved parties, the Inquirer backed off before the issue went to arbitration.

There’s no guarantee, however, that the writer will be given their original gig back, as sources explained to us that you “cannot grieve assignment.”

3. a “heated exchange”

Inquirer sources described to us a “heated exchange” involving Huang and an employee during a Friday afternoon planning call that was doubling as an unofficial retirement send off. The employee, we were told, “gave Huang a piece of his mind” after Huang, who does not regularly participate in this meeting, reportedly claimed he got the employee a raise, calling that person ungrateful in the process.

The employee worked on the newspaper side of the business, and in our conversation with guild members, one person told us that “leadership doesn’t give a fuck about print.”

That’s not hard to believe when considering that the job description for Huang’s role specifically stated that “the editor will be charged with significantly expanding our online audience by developing and implementing a comprehensive digital coverage strategy.” Not coincidentally, editor Gabe Escobar told employees in a 2023 memo that the company would be adding “publishing volume goals” for editors, paired with 1v1 meetings, to address a decline in digital audience attributed, in part, to a lack of volume. Writers simply weren’t cranking out enough stories.

4. non-attribution

Last September, an Inquirer night editor, hired by Huang, was fired for plagiarism. The editor, working remotely from the west coast, took a passage from a Jordan Hall article at NBC Sports Philadelphia, which sources described to us as a “botched aggregation job.” The editor’s byline was switched to “staff reports,” and a note was added to the bottom of the story, explaining that “this article has been updated to remove a passage taken from a report by NBC10 without attribution.”  

5. getting rid of people, allegedly

On the January Zoom call, a guild leader made reference to Huang saying he would “get rid of people, or whatever he said at that meeting.”

Sources say “that meeting” is a 2023 call in which the topic of buyouts was brought up. At the time, Inquirer employees and guild leaders were not aware of another buyout round taking place, so the allegation is that Huang was speaking out of turn when discussing how to reduce the sports department workforce if voluntary severance numbers weren’t met.


We’ve described a few examples of why the NewsGuild is annoyed with Mike Huang, but speaking with Inquirer employees, attitudes varied. Several employees pointed out to us that Huang was brought in to do a very specific job, and had to act within the constraints of the Temple study. It was his task to not only diversify the sports department following the employee revolt, but also accelerate digital growth at the same time. In that sense, this eschewing of the print product was understood to be part of the assignment given by upper management.

Furthermore, several employees said the guild’s ire was somewhat misplaced, or should also be directed at the editors underneath Huang, who are responsible for the journalism side of things. Huang, they said, was more aligned with the sales and business side of the product, and distanced from the actual journalism itself, a setup that one person described as “unusual.” Others told us that were simply too many editors, disproportionate to the amount of writers.

Some mentioned that Huang’s hybrid work situation, which involves traveling back and forth from Connecticut, complicates work and relationship-building efforts, and they blamed not Huang, but upper management for allowing that arrangement in the first place. As we reported several years ago, these new editors do not live in Philadelphia, let alone Pennsylvania, New Jersey, or Delaware. For instance, there are Inquirer sports editors living in Los Angeles, Chicago, and Boston.

Furthermore, we got varying opinions on the current state of the sports department, and the Inquirer itself, now a few years removed from the employee revolt. On one hand, some lamented the loss of institutional knowledge and a true connection to Philadelphia, which they say went out the door with the old white guys, but others pushed back on that idea, noting that there remains decades of combined experience between the likes of Marcus Hayes, Mike Sielski, Jeff McLane, Keith Pompey, and other McLoone-era holdovers both on and off the various beats. The Inquirer, they reminded us, is the only local outlet that has sports reporters consistently traveling, staff writers continue to win awards, and the outlet remains on solid ground despite poach jobs from The Athletic and other waning competitors that were once seen as a threat.

There was also varied opinion on the quality of the new staffers, with one person noting to us that one of Huang’s hires was fired, another was demoted, and a third quit on their own. But others believe that Huang’s shuffling has elevated the digital product and Alex Coffey’s name was brought up by several people, unprompted, as an example of a new addition having a positive impact. In terms of what people are clicking on and reading, we’re told that well-reported, old school journalism continues to register, as does original storytelling and column writing. In that sense, the Inquirer sports department is still doing what it’s always done, and has not had to resort to cheap aggregation or evergreen/SEO tactics.

On the question of recourse, which perhaps is burying the lede, is there anything the NewsGuild can really do? If they have such a problem with this editor, do they have any power to act?

Not directly. The guild exists to collectively bargain for a fair contract, support employee rights, and file these grievances on their behalf. They have no say in upper management hiring and firing decisions, though people we spoke with theorized that if enough transgressions go into a figurative dossier, Inquirer leaders may be forced to act.

The Philadelphia Inquirer did not respond to an email, but in a statement to Crossing Broad, NewsGuild President Diane Mastrull said the following:

“Only one of us has the best interests of my members at heart: me. Helping you publicize any internal issues at The Inquirer only benefits you. As Guild president since 2018, I have never been shy about confronting the company on any issue. No disrespect, but I don’t need an outside publication to fight my battles for me. 

I do appreciate your interest. And I do look forward to the day when you find something positive to write about The Inquirer and the tremendous journalism my colleagues do.”