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Inquirer has overwhelmingly white newsroom and its coverage underrepresents people of color, report says

The researchers drew a straight line between The Inquirer’s coverage and its deficiencies in workplace equity and inclusion.

The office of the Philadelphia Inquirer. An independent audit released this week found The Inquirer's coverage underrepresents people of color.
The office of the Philadelphia Inquirer. An independent audit released this week found The Inquirer's coverage underrepresents people of color.Read moreALEJANDRO A. ALVAREZ / Staff Photographer

The Philadelphia Inquirer has an overwhelmingly white newsroom and fails to retain journalists of color, resulting in news coverage that overrepresents people who are white and male, an independent review released this week found.

The audit, commissioned by The Inquirer and conducted by researchers at Temple University, found that out of 14,000 people featured in a sample of 3,000 articles, photos, and videos between August 2019 and July 2020, about a quarter were Black, 3% were Latinx, and less than 2% were Asian. Representation of Indigenous people was negligible.

Compared to the racial makeup of Philadelphia, the data show all nonwhite people were marginalized.

When comparing the coverage to the regional population, Black people were represented proportionally, but only due to heavy representation in sports. Excluding sports stories, Black representation was 19%. Latinx and Asian people were most underrepresented.

» READ MORE: The full Inquirer Diversity and Inclusion Audit Report

White reporters were more likely to write stories about white people, according to the report, while nonwhite journalists featured subjects who were “far more diverse.” The newsroom is three-quarters white.

And the researchers, through interviews with 46 newsroom staff and managers, with the promise of anonymity, drew a straight line between The Inquirer’s coverage and its deficiencies in workplace equity and inclusion.

Taken together, the report describes a newsroom that has for decades allowed racism, discrimination, and cultural incompetency within its walls — an internal culture that many say foments unfair coverage of communities of color.

Journalists of color told interviewers of severe frustrations that cause them to question why they remain in the field. Several suggested they have racist or discriminatory colleagues. Some raised concerns about pay equity. A handful said change won’t happen unless The Inquirer’s management changes.

Company and newsroom leadership declined interview requests through a spokesperson. Top editor Gabriel Escobar said in a statement that a newsroom effort is already underway to address “many of the issues raised,” adding: “We look forward to working with our colleagues to chart a path forward based on what we have learned.”

The company spokesperson did not answer follow-up questions, including whether The Inquirer commits to implementing the report’s recommendations. Those suggestions include: hire and promote more journalists of color, bolster community engagement, and take steps to repair The Inquirer’s relationship with marginalized communities.

The Inquirer commissioned the audit — funded by the Lenfest Institute for Journalism and Independence Public Media Foundation — after the paper ran a headline reading “Buildings Matter, Too” on a June 2 article about Philadelphia’s infrastructure in the aftermath of the racial justice uprising. The headline caused an uproar among staff and community members, and The Inquirer apologized.

Two days later, 44 journalists of color called out “sick and tired,” writing to management: “We’re tired of shouldering the burden of dragging this 200-year-old institution kicking and screaming into a more equitable age.”

On June 6, senior vice president and executive editor Stan Wischnowski resigned.

In July, the newsroom embarked on a new diversity and inclusion effort called Inquirer for All, an initiative involving about 70 journalists examining coverage, culture, voice, and internal processes. The company has also implemented cultural bias training and is working with Free Press, a nonprofit focused on racial justice in media, to examine its crime and justice coverage.

Escobar was promoted to be top editor in November, making him one of the few Latino newsroom leaders in the country.

The Inquirer was not alone. News organizations across the country last spring faced increased scrutiny over how they cover communities of color. Staff revolts took place at the New York Times and the Washington Post, and a handful of top newspaper and magazine editors resigned. Multiple news organizations have apologized for perpetuating racism and anti-Blackness.

In response to The Inquirer’s audit, the Veteran Black Journalists, a group of newsroom members, said in a statement that if the organization “continues to be a news entity largely curated by and for white people, it will never be able to successfully serve the city and the region.”

“Now the focus has to be on intentionally recalibrating so that we can become who we need to be,” they continued. “Black people, Black authentic thought, are essential to that transformation.”

Ernest Owens, president of the Philadelphia Association of Black Journalists, said while the result of the audit “comes as a surprise to no one,” the data was “disappointing, infuriating, and insulting.” He added: “there needs to be some resignations.”

“This is our paper of record. For them to fail in a city that’s majority Black and brown is a crisis in media in this city,” said Owens, editor-at-large for Philadelphia magazine. “We cannot continue to treat this as if it’s a bygone issue. It’s a pressing issue that is a total catastrophe.”

PABJ requested a discussion with company leadership within 30 days to collaborate on a plan to address racism in the newsroom and The Inquirer’s coverage.

The current diversity and inclusion effort at The Inquirer is the latest over the course of decades. The organization has made marginal improvements in newsroom representation since 2004, when an internal audit found the newsroom — more than double its current size of 225 journalists — was 82% white.

Today, the newsroom is 74% white and three-quarters of editors are white. The investigations desk, considered the preeminent team of journalists, is entirely white, and the breaking news and opinion teams each have one person of color.

Diane Mastrull, president of the NewsGuild of Greater Philadelphia, said she hopes the audit “is finally the impetus for change the company can no longer ignore.” She said the company must address “a long-standing practice of inequitable pay,” which the union documented in a pay study presented to company leaders last year.

Inquirer leadership has since commissioned its own pay study. The company expects that to be completed by the end of the month.

The Temple audit did not examine staff pay. It also did not examine story placement in the newspaper or online. And it didn’t quantify whether groups were covered positively or negatively.

The report said the race of the writer correlated with the people featured in articles. That is partly because the majority of articles written by nonwhite people were about sports. The same trend existed in just news, though it was “less pronounced.”

About 59% of the people featured in Inquirer articles, photos, and videos were white. Philadelphia is about 34% white, and the eight-county region is 61% white.

The Temple audit also found a dramatic gender imbalance in The Inquirer’s coverage. More than three-quarters of the 14,000 people featured in Inquirer content were male. Six people, or 0.1%, were nonbinary or genderqueer.

The trend cut across race. Even when researchers removed stories about sports from the equation, white men were still featured two-and-a-half times as frequently as white women, and Black women accounted for about a third of all Black people featured.

Out of all race and gender identities featured, Black women accounted for 4.7%.

Inside the newsroom as of August, women accounted for nearly half of the journalists, and they are overwhelmingly white. Among a handful of journalists of color who are editors, there are no Latinx women. The sports desk is all male.

Managers interviewed as part of the audit said there is progress in hiring journalists of color but that those efforts were constrained by, as one manager put it, “the fact that we’re getting smaller, by the fact that we are in a very strong union shop, and there’s not a lot of people who leave based on performance management.”

The Inquirer has faced financial strife for more than a decade. In November, the company announced it’s closing its printing plant, eliminating 500 production jobs.

The audit was conducted by Temple University faculty and researchers with the guidance of a few Inquirer journalists who didn’t have editorial control. Company leadership said they first saw the report during a Wednesday staff meeting.

The audit team was cochaired by Temple journalism faculty members Bryan Monroe and Andrea Wenzel. Monroe died last month of a heart attack.

Wenzel said The Inquirer faces “serious challenges” that necessitate “some real, difficult conversations.”

“Good intentions aren’t enough, and there needs to be a way to explicitly talk about race,” she said, “because if it’s not talked about directly, then the default is an assumption of whiteness and that we’re writing our stories for white readers.”