By: Joe Strupp
More than two dozen minority staffers at the Philadelphia Inquirer signed a protest letter delivered today to publisher Brian Tierney that opposes the percentage of minorities in the recent layoff of 70 newsroom employees, claiming it involves too many blacks, Asians and Hispanics.
“Inadequate consideration was given to diversity not only in naming those to be laid off, but in subsequently carving out specific newsroom jobs to be protected from the layoffs,” the letter stated, in part. “(For example, immigration is one of the hottest topics in the nation, yet The Inquirer’s immigration reporter, an Asian American, was laid off.)”
The letter added that “with previous job actions at The Inquirer having decimated its number of more seasoned minority journalists, current layoffs that have targeted junior staffers have destroyed hopes for a new generation to grow and become the paper’s future leaders.”
The entire letter is displayed below.
A group of seven newsroom employees, including two officers from the local chapter of the National Association of Black Journalists, presented the letter to Tierney this morning during a meeting that included Inquirer Editor William Marimow and Philadelphia Daily News Editor Michael Days.
Melanie Burney, an Inquirer reporter who attended the meeting, said the group was upset that the recent layoffs involved a “disproportionate” number of minorities. While the Inquirer newsroom is just 18% minority, some 28% of those laid off were minority employees, she said.
During the meeting, Tierney agreed to form a diversity committee for the two papers to study the issue, but stopped short of making any changes to the layoffs list, Burney said. “I wanted to see something concrete happen today,” Burney told E&P. “An immediate solution, but we did not get any. I wanted too hear that there would be more of a commitment to bring people back quickly.”
Jay Devine, a Tierney spokesman, said the publisher considered the meeting to be “terrific” and “cordial.” He said Tierney reiterated his position that many of the layoff decisions were tied to seniority provisions in the newspaper guild contract that require most layoffs to be linked to seniority. “Our hands were tied by this rigid seniority system which does not allow for diversity,” Devine said. “In spite of that, he did talk about the fact that he intends to continue to make the company as diverse as he can.”
Devine also pointed to the fact that Philadelphia Media Holdings, Tierney’s company that bought both papers last summer, actually boasts a 28% minority workforce, with 20% black. Those percentages, he said, are higher than the minority workforce of the newspapers’ eight-county circulation area.
Devine also cited Tierney’s commitment to minority hiring in the choice of Mark Frisby, the company’s new executive vice president in charge of production, labor and purchasing, who is black.
Both sides agreed to meet again in a month, a move that each said was a positive approach. “It was an encouraging first step,” Burney said. “This issue isn’t going away.”
Below is the entire protest letter delivered to Tierney today.
The Philadelphia Inquirer Diversity Observations January 16, 2007
African American (11.3 percent), Asian American (4.7 percent) and Hispanic American (2.1 percent) journalists are the minorities represented on The Inquirer’s newsroom staff, according to the latest survey of the American Society of Newspaper editors. African American (16) and Asian American (5) journalists represent a disproportionate share (28 percent) of the newsroom staff identified to be laid off by The Inquirer.
Philadelphia’s population is 45 percent African American, 5 percent Asian and 10percent Hispanic, according to U.S. Census figures, meaning that even before the layoffs, The Inquirer newsroom staff was a poor reflection of the community it covers. Inadequate consideration was given to diversity not only in naming those to be laid off, but in subsequently carving out specific newsroom jobs to be protected from the layoffs. (For example, immigration is one of the hottest topics in the nation, yet The Inquirer’s immigration reporter, an Asian American, was laid off.)
The Inquirer City Desk has only one black reporter and no black editors as it prepares to cover a mayoral election in which race will be an important factor. The lack of diversity on The Inquirer Copy Desk puts it at a dangerous disadvantage in sighting cultural and ethnic slights before they get into the paper.
The lack of diversity within The Inquirer Features Department puts it at a disadvantage in sighting cultural trends in music, dance, the theater, etc., within the Philadelphia region.
The lack of diversity among The Inquirer’s assigning editors puts the paper at a disadvantage in deciding which stories are most important to our readers. The lack of diversity among The Inquirer’s regular columnists presents a monolithic point of view on sundry issues, suggesting to minority readers that the paper doesn’t really care about what they think.
The low number of Hispanics in the newsroom echoes this concern. With previous job actions at The Inquirer having decimated its number of more seasoned minority journalists, current layoffs that have targeted junior staffers have destroyed hopes for a new generation to grow and become the paper’s future leaders.
The carving out of “important” beats for protection from layoffs has revealed The Inquirer’s failure to assign minority journalists to key beats. New hires of minority journalists at entry-level positions will only perpetuate that condition.
The Inquirer lacks programs aimed at retention of veteran minority journalists. The Inquirer lacks an active recruitment effort, complete with director and staff, which can identify qualified minority journalists at various levels of experience who might be hired at any time in the future.
The Inquirer has failed to continue operation of a diversity committee of staff, including top editors, which would concern itself with the ethnic makeup of the newsroom staff as well as coverage of our minority communities.
The Inquirer has failed to continue even infrequent content analyses of its pages to ensure that our stories and photographs properly reflect the diversity of our readers. Both Inquirer publisher Brian P. Tierney and executive editor Bill Marimow are to be commended for their stated commitments to diversity, which must now be borne out by their actions.
Any finger-pointing at the Newspaper Guild for the impact of layoffs and carve-outs does not excuse The Inquirer for not taking additional steps available to it to ensure that the diversity of its staff was better protected. The involvement of both the Philadelphia Association of Black Journalists and the National Association of Black Journalists is indicative of the rest of America’s interest in how The Inquirer handles these diversity issues.
The lack of coverage by The Inquirer of these diversity issues, given its previous coverage of other workplace issues, suggests to readers that The Inquirer is trying to hide from the subject rather than take positive action.
Considering these observations, minority journalists at The Inquirer collectively request that positive action be taken now, with the immediate object being to reduce the number of minority journalists included in the current list of those to be laid off.
Respectfully submitted by, Inquirer staffers Tanya Barrientos, Melanie L. Burney Philippa J. Chaplin, Sterling Chen, Vernon Clark, Porus Cooper, Ron Cortes, Maisha Elonai, Sarah J. Glover, Thom Guarnieri, Annette John-Hall, Kristin E. Holmes, Sherry Howard, Harold Jackson, Michael Levin, Acel Moore, Dwight Ott, Michael Perez, Keith Pompey, Lita Prout, Claire Smith, Akira Suwa, Miriam Tarver, Ron Tarver, Kevin Tatum, Elisa Ung, Elizabeth Wellington.