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The award is a testament to J.A.W.N.’s bravery in holding Philadelphia news outlets accountable for their treatment of both journalists of color and communities of color. The coalition is comprised of Free Press, the Philadelphia Association of Black Journalists and the Philly chapters of both the Asian American Journalists Association and the National Association of Hispanic Journalists. At Free Press, Tauhid Chappell, Vanessa Maria Graber and Cassie Owens lead the organization’s work in Philly.

Advocating for equitable & antiracist coverage and practices

Much of this work has centered on pushing The Philadelphia Inquirer to dismantle the structural racism that has long defined the organization. In 2020 — following the mass uprisings responding to the murder of George Floyd — the paper published an article with the callous headline “Buildings Matter Too.” In the wake of the public backlash, the Inquirer claimed that it wanted to become an antiracist institution. But the paper has failed to make the necessary shifts.

In 2022, when it emerged that the paper didn’t employ a single Black male reporter apart from the sports desk, J.A.W.N. submitted a letter expressing its dismay. “[Your] failures have led to the loss of multiple journalists of color within the newsroom over the last year,” the letter reads. “ … This means we are missing out on important perspectives to cover critical topics like public safety, housing, education, the LGBTQIA+ community, food insecurity, poverty and Black culture within Philadelphia.”

J.A.W.N. called on the paper to build a newsroom that actually reflects the diversity of Philadelphia’s residents and requested meetings with Inquirer Publisher and CEO Lisa Hughes and other top executives. Instead, Hughes wrote a letter to staff gaslighting J.A.W.N.

In response to months of public pressure, board members from the paper and the Lenfest Institute for Journalism — which owns the Inquirer — finally met with J.A.W.N. leadership to discuss the concerns that community members, journalists, and members of the coalition had raised. J.A.W.N. advocated for more journalists of color, especially Black male journalists. The coalition also pushed for community-centered coverage about people of color, the end of editorial processes that facilitate racist and discriminatory reporting, and greater support for journalism-affinity groups. 

The Pen and Pencil Award is the second honor J.A.W.N. has received in recent months. In November, the Philadelphia Association for Black Journalists bestowed its President’s Award for holding institutions like the Inquirer accountable. (At the same event, the Inquirer received PABJ’s first-ever “thumbs down” award.)

Stay tuned for more developments as J.A.W.N. continues its efforts to transform Philly’s local-news ecosystem.

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