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PHILADELPHIA —  On Tuesday, Free Press joined with allies in the Journalism Accountability Watchdog Network (JAWN) to give a vote of no confidence to The Philadelphia Inquirer after the newspaper failed to address numerous diversity, equity and inclusion issues and improve coverage of the city’s BIPOC communities.

In a letter to the newspaper’s leadership, Free Press, 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) called for major changes in leadership across the newspaper. “We have no confidence that the Inquirer shares a genuine interest in reaching shared grounds to address ongoing DEI concerns that we, and members of the public, have consistently raised over the years,” the letter reads.

JAWN 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 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.

On May 3, organizers of JAWN met with Inquirer Publisher and CEO Lisa Hughes and Inquirer board member Keith Leaphart to discuss several concerns about the paper’s lack of action following its 2020 commitments.

“The paper has failed to make these necessary shifts,” said Free Press Program Manager Tauhid Chappell, who attended the meeting. “We came to this meeting hoping to have an honest conversation where the Inquirer would acknowledge the harm it has inflicted. This did not happen. Instead, the meeting left JAWN members feeling that the Inquirer has no intention to work in partnership with the coalition. Hughes and Leaphart refused to acknowledge concerns raised by our respective members, which include past and current journalists of color at the paper.”

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 paper’s coverage of police, gun violence and public safety. There’s also a lack of accessible opportunities for the public to hold the Inquirer accountable for failing to take the steps needed to become an ‘antiracist’ newsroom,” Chappell said.

JAWN’s vote of no confidence means that the coalition cannot in good faith encourage its members or others in journalism to seek out opportunities at the Inquirer, including fellowships, internships, apprenticeships or hiring initiatives.

“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,” Chappell said.

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