At least 34 journalists of color at the Philadelphia Inquirer called out sick on Thursday, in protest of editorial leadership’s decision to run a column in Tuesday’s print edition with the headline “Buildings Matter, Too."
As of Thursday morning, at least 43 journalists of color—the majority of those on the staff—at the Philadelphia Inquirer had signed onto a letter to management, condemning the decision to print the article as part of a longer history of silencing and discrediting marginalized voices at the paper. Of those not participating in the sick out, 7 have withheld their bylines today.
“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,” the letter to management begins. “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.”
A number of participating journalists of color called out the publication on Twitter today.
As of 2019, the Inquirer’s 191-year old newsroom was 11 percent Black, according to Google Trends. According to the same source, Philadelphia's population was 42 percent Black.
Thursday’s action follows widespread criticism of liberal media outlets for publishing op-eds and headlines that reprimand protesters who damage property rather than focusing on the loss of Black lives. On Wednesday, dozens of New York Times staff members publicly condemned editorial leadership’s decision to publish an op-ed by Arkansas Senator Tom Cotton, which called for a military intervention in US cities experiencing unrest. Meanwhile, media outlets that have resorted to mass layoffs during the Covid-19 pandemic have been criticized for disproportionately targeting journalists of color.
Since publishing the article, the Philadelphia Inquirer has issued an apology to its readership. “The headline offensively riffed on the Black Lives Matter movement, and suggested an equivalence between the loss of buildings and the lives of black Americans,” the paper’s management wrote. The column, written by the Inquirer’s architecture critic, argues property damage caused by uprisings in Philadelphia, Minneapolis, and Los Angeles will “hurt the very people protests are meant to uplift.”
The Inquirer’s publisher also issued an apology to the newsroom’s journalists last night on Slack. Backlash against the article also sparked at 2-hour Zoom call where journalists spoke out about the company’s handling of race issues.
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“To be clear, we absolutely erred in allowing a headline that is tone-deaf and not reflective of where we are as a nation or community to be printed,” the paper’s publisher Lisa Hughes wrote to journalists in a Slack message reviewed by Motherboard. “On behalf of the entire leadership team at The Inquirer, I am sorry.”
The newsroom sickout is the latest in a mounting list of labor actions staged by retail and restaurant workers and bus drivers across the country in solidarity with communities protesting the Minneapolis Police Department’s killing of George Floyd. In recent days, bus drivers in Minneapolis, New York City, and Washington DC have refused to transport arrested protesters and police officers. On Monday, workers at a popular Mexican restaurant chain in Ohio walked out in the middle of a shift refusing to fill orders for officers, leading management to terminate at least four of them.