The Philadelphia Inquirer published a headline in Tuesday’s edition that was deeply offensive. We should not have printed it. We’re sorry, and regret that we did. We also know that an apology on its own is not sufficient.
The headline accompanied a story on the future of Philadelphia’s buildings and civic infrastructure in the aftermath of this week’s protests. 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.
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.
Here’s how our editing and headline-writing process operates: Stories typically go through two assignment editors before reaching the print desk, where copy editors weigh the merits of the story, and check for grammar, style and factual errors. It’s at that stage, when the print page is being created, that print headlines are written by copy editors. Typically, two print editors review headlines and pages before they are sent to the presses. Our review of this incident found that the process was followed, and the headline was created by one editor and read by another.
This incident makes clear that changes are needed, and we are committing to start immediately.
We will review the editing process above and implement safeguards to flag sensitive content and prevent single-person publication. We will continue training and discussions around cultural sensitivity, including a previously scheduled program that will begin this week. We will expand on our commitment to build a newsroom that better reflects the community it serves, with more recruiting resources and requirements for diverse finalist pools. And we will define a process for flagging, discussing and publicly disclosing lapses in editorial judgment that aren’t addressed with a simple factual correction.
In addition to our readers and the Philadelphia community, we apologize to the many employees of the Philadelphia Inquirer, whose work selling advertising, printing the paper and developing Inquirer.com enables our journalism.
Finally, we apologize to Inquirer journalists, particularly those of color, who expressed sadness, anger, and embarrassment in a two-hour newsroom-wide meeting Wednesday. An enormous amount of pressure sits on the shoulders of black and brown Inquirer journalists, and mistakes like this, made by the publication they work for, are profoundly demoralizing. We hear you and will continue to listen as we work to improve.
Stan Wischnowski, Executive Editor
Gabriel Escobar, Editor