Stan Wischnowski, the executive editor of the Philadelphia Inquirer, has resigned following twenty years working at the organization after the newspaper ran the headline “Buildings Matter, Too” on an architecture critic’s column drawing attention to the negative consequences of damaging property and buildings.
The Inquirer reported that the executive editor announced his resignation “days after discontent among the newspaper’s staff erupted over a headline on a column about the impact of the civil unrest following the police killing of George Floyd in Minneapolis.”
The newspaper’s publisher told staff in a memo that they will “look both internally and externally for a second leader who embodies our values, embraces our shared strategy, and understands the diversity of the communities we serve.”
After the incident, Wischnowski and two other editors issued an article-length apology for suggesting that “the loss of buildings and the lives of Black Americans” were equivalent.
“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. That is unacceptable,” said the editors. “While no such comparison was intended, intent is ultimately irrelevant. An editor’s attempt to capture a columnist’s nuanced argument in a few words went horribly wrong, and the resulting hurt and anger are plain.”
The editors also explained the editing process, promised “to listen as we work to improve,” and shared that they held a “two-hour newsroom-wide meeting” on Wednesday to listen to the “sadness, anger and despair” of employees. Diane Mastrull, president of the NewsGuild of Greater Philadelphia union, told The New York Times in an interview that the staff also discussed diversity and pay inequity.
Over three dozen “journalist of color at the Philadelphia Inquirer” also signed an open letter expressing that they were “tired of the hasty apologies and silent corrections,” and the “workshops and worksheets and diversity panels,” and the actions from leadership eroding trust in the community with “careless, unempathetic decisions.”
“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,” said the letter.
“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,” said the letter, before concluding: “This is what it means to ‘give a damn.’”
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