Inquirer staffers who called out ‘sick and tired’ voiced what a lot of us have been thinking | Jenice Armstrong
I’m proud of my colleagues for this. We need pay equity. We need more blacks in the newsroom and in the highest levels of management. We need cultural sensitivity training too.
It galls me knowing that I earn significantly less than others who do the exact same job that I do.
If this were happening elsewhere to someone else, I’d have a whole lot to say about it.
But since it’s my job, I mostly stay silent.
I try not to dwell on it, and remind myself not to take it personally. This is a fight that African American journalists have been fighting ever since the legendary, Pulitzer-Prize winning Acel Moore, who was one of the paper’s first black reporters, joined The Inquirer in 1962 as a copy clerk.
» READ MORE: An apology to our readers and Inquirer employees
I find it ironic that reporters and columnists are often asked to write about issues of equity and fairness but have to fight for it in our own newsrooms.
In college, I was initially attracted to this industry because I thought journalists were more progressive than people in other industries. I hoped that as an African American female reared in the aftermath of the civil rights movement, I would have fewer in-house battles to fight, since I would be with fellow crusaders who made a living by prodding America to live up to the ideals upon which she was founded.
After working at news outlets around the country, I was disappointed to learn that newspapers are microcosms of what exists elsewhere. Black journalists still make up a tiny proportion of the nation’s newsrooms. We and other journalists of color are sorely needed to add context and help conceptualize stories, particularly those in underserved urban neighborhoods.
The Inquirer was reminded of this earlier this week after an embarrassing headline blunder on a column written by Pulitzer Prize-winning architecture critic Inga Saffron, who mused about the destruction and looting of some local buildings that occurred hours after peaceful protests about the death of George Floyd. The headline in print versions over the column read, “Buildings Matter, Too.”
The headline couldn’t have been more tone deaf. The wording was a really bad play on Black Lives Matter, which is a rallying cry for demonstrators worldwide calling for systemic changes in the wake of Floyd’s death last month. It essentially equated the loss of a human’s life with the loss of commercial and residential property. Blunders like this undo years of work trying to get sources and readers to trust and read the paper.
Eventually, the headline online was changed to “Damaging buildings disproportionately hurt the people protesters are trying to uplift.” Inquirer editors also issued a public apology that reads in part, “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."
» READ MORE: Damaging buildings disproportionately hurts the people protesters are trying to uplift | Inga Saffron
In protest, about 40 reporters and columnists on Thursday called out, saying we were “sick and tired.” We also submitted a letter to management that reads in part, “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."
I’m proud of my colleagues for standing up like this.
We need pay equity. We need more blacks in the newsroom and in the highest levels of management. We could use some cultural sensitivity training, too.
The Daily News hired me in 1991. Even as I was getting used to my new home, I remember colleagues talking about a racially insensitive Inquirer editorial written in 1990 that suggested that black welfare mothers be implanted with the contraceptive Norplant to prevent pregnancies. Back then, Moore told a reporter, "Had blacks been more fully consulted about the Norplant piece, it wouldn’t have been as snide and as insulting.”
We are sorely needed to prevent debacles like what The Inquirer experienced back then and also earlier this week.
As my colleague Stephan Salisbury so eloquently pointed out in a recent email to the newsroom, black eyes matter, too.