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Journalists Stage Walkout After Philadelphia Inquirer Publishes 'Buildings Matter' Headline

Journalists Stage Walkout After Philadelphia Inquirer Publishes 'Buildings Matter' Headline
Photo by William Thomas Cain/Getty Images

The Black Lives Matter movement is on the front page a lot these days. With the protests over the death of George Floyd still going on nearly two weeks after his death, the movement has made it clear that enough is enough and America will not go forward without major change.

Which is why when the Philadelphia Inquirer ran a piece entitled "Buildings Matter, Too," a twist on the slogan Black Lives Matter, over 30 journalists of color called out sick in protest. The piece, by Inga Saffron, gained immediate criticism from within the Philadelphia Inquirer's staff.

A letter signed by 44 Inquirer journalists addressed "The leadership of the Philadelphia Inquirer."

"As journalists of color, we do more than report on the community — we are the community. We do our best to give the community a platform to be heard. We strive to represent the voice of the people."
"And we are tired."
"We're tired of hasty apologies and silent corrections when someone screws up. We're tired of workshops and worksheets and diversity panels. We're tired of working for months and years to gain the trust of our communities — communities that have long had good reason to not trust our profession — only to see that trust eroded in an instant by careless, unempathetic decisions."

They continued:

"It's no coincidence that communities hurt by systemic racism only see journalists in their neighborhoods when people are shot or buildings burn down. It takes commitment to correct and improve that relationship."
"It is an insult to our work, our communities, and our neighbors to see that trust destroyed—and makes us that much more likely to face threats and aggression. The carelessness of our leadership makes it harder to do our jobs, and at worst puts our lives at risk."
"We're tired of shouldering the burden of dragging this 200-year-old institution kicking and screaming into a more equitable age. We're tired of being told of the progress the company has made and being served platitudes about 'diversity and inclusion' when we raise our concerns."
"We're tired of seeing our words and photos twisted to fit a narrative that does not reflect our reality. We're tired of being told to show both sides of issues there are no two sides of."

The letter continued:

"On June 4, we're calling in sick and tired."
"Sick and tired of pretending things are OK. Sick and tired of not being heard."
"It is an act that pains us, knowing that now more than ever it is our duty and responsibility to uplift the marginalized voices of our community."
"But in this moment, it is more important for us to stand alongside those who have risen up against systemic racism and inequities and call on the Inquirer to do better. To be better."

"This is not the start of a conversation; this conversation has been started time and time again. We demand action. We demand a plan, with deadlines."
"We demand full, transparent commitment to changing how we do business. No more 'handling internally.' No more quiet corrections."
"If we are to walk into a better world, we need to do it with our chests forward—acknowledge and accept where we make mistakes, and show how we learn from them. Your embarrassment is not worth more than our humanity."

They concluded:

"This is what it means to 'give a damn.'"

A detailed apology from Editor Gabriel Escobar, Managing Editor Patrick Kerkstra and Executive Editor Stan Wischnowski surfaced on Wednesday, saying:

"This incident makes clear that changes are needed, and we are committing to start immediately."

On Saturday in a note to employees, publisher Lisa Hughes announced Senior Vice President and Executive Editor Stan Wischnowski's last day will be June 12. Hughes thanked Wischnowski for his 10 years as executive editor and 20 years with the publication and expressed confidence in Editor Gabe Escobar and Managing Editor Patrick Kerkstra's ability to continue to lead the newsroom while a successor is found.

The headline was also changed.

Hopefully these are the first steps in a new direction for the paper.