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Free Press joins its allies within the Journalism Accountability Watchdog Network (J.A.W.N.) in giving a vote of “no confidence” to The Philadelphia Inquirer after the city’s paper of record failed to address numerous issues around diversity, equity, inclusion and coverage of Philly’s diverse communities.

The letter, signed by Free Press Program Manager Tauhid Chappell and the presidents of the Philadelphia Association of Black Journalists (PABJ), the Asian American Journalism Association’s Philadelphia chapter (AAJA-P) and the National Association of Hispanic Journalists’ Philadelphia chapter (NAHJ-P), comes at a time when J.A.W.N. has been working to hold Philadelphia news outlets accountable for their treatment of both journalists of color and communities of color.

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.

The Inquirer has failed to hold itself accountable or honor its commitments

Earlier this month, organizers of J.A.W.N met with Inquirer Publisher and CEO Lisa Hughes and Inquirer board member Keith Leaphart to discuss several DEI concerns and commitments that the paper has neglected to address with our organizations following the “Buildings Matter Too” fiasco.

Over the course of two years, Hughes and Inquirer leadership refused to meet with J.A.W.N. as a collective to address the ongoing failure of the Inquirer’s DEI initiatives. Hughes even went so far as to send an email to Inquirer staff warning of “voices outside of our organization looking to downplay and disregard the hard work that goes on each and every day at The Inquirer” — describing the complaints from J.A.W.N. as “demands, threats, and belittlement.”

These failures have prompted multiple journalists of color to leave the newsroom, which until recently employed zero Black male reporters outside of its sports desk. There continues to be public distrust of the Inquirer's coverage of police, gun violence and public safety. There is also a lack of accessible opportunities for the public to hold the Inquirer accountable over its failures to take the steps needed to become an “antiracist” newsroom. We came to this meeting hoping to have an honest conversation where the Inquirer would acknowledge the harm it has inflicted.

Unfortunately, the meeting left J.A.W.N. members feeling that the Inquirer has no intention in working in partnership with the coalition in meaningful and transformative ways. Hughes and Leaphart refused to acknowledge concerns raised by our respective memberships (which include past and current journalists of color at the paper). And the two showed no interest in honoring the formal agreements it had made with PABJ and Free Press. “Let the past stay in the past,” Hughes and Leaphart repeatedly said. 

As a result, the Journalism Accountability Watchdog Network has decided to give a vote of “no confidence” in the Inquirer leadership, asserting that the paper does not have a genuine interest in reaching shared grounds to address ongoing DEI concerns that J.A.W.N., and members of the public, have consistently raised over the years. Given this collective vote of “no confidence,” in good conscience J.A.W.N. cannot recommend that anyone seek out opportunities at the Inquirer. This includes fellowship, internship, apprenticeship or hiring initiatives, especially since the company has failed to partner with J.A.W.N. on such initiatives in the past.

With the conclusion of all of this, Free Press looks forward to working with more community groups and other like-minded organizations in Philly that truly value community engagement, centering community-information needs and producing sound journalism that accurately reflects the city’s diversity.

You can read the full statement here.

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