The Philadelphia Inquirer recently launched a yearlong, multiplatform journalism project called “A More Perfect Union” that will explore the racist origins, practices and consequences of American institutions that were born in Philadelphia—beginning with an examination of the newspaper itself.
To learn more about the project, E&P spoke with Lisa Hughes, publisher and CEO; Gabriel Escobar, senior vice president and editor; and Errin Haines, editor-at-large for The 19th, a nonprofit, independent news organization, who will lead the project as contributing editor. Haines is also on the board of directors of the Lenfest Institute for Journalism, the nonprofit owner of the Inquirer. Haines, whose work at The 19th is published in the Inquirer, was tapped by Hughes to lead the project.
They explained the project was inspired by the work of the Kansas City Star and the Los Angeles Times; both news organizations recently conducted self-examinations into their own racist pasts. The national reckoning that occurred last summer, which sparked conversations in all types of institutions about their own part in systemic racism, also played a part in inspiring the project.
The Inquirer itself faced backlash last year after publishing a column with the headline “Buildings Matter, Too,” which ultimately led to the resignation of executive editor and senior vice president Stan Wischnowski.
“A month after the headline was published, the newsroom began a comprehensive process to examine nearly every facet of what our journalists do,” said Hughes. “Almost 80 staffers, more than a third of the newsroom, have convened every week since. In working groups, they discuss complex issues and make recommendations that are then considered by a steering committee made up of managers and frontline staffers.”
As a multiplatform endeavor, photography, interactives, video, audio, and broadsheet are all being considered, Hughes said. The necessary staff at the Inquirer will be brought on to help develop the series. Freelancers will also contribute to the project.
Philadelphia is home to some of the country’s most powerful institutions, and the birthplace of the first hospital, first university, and first public library. It will be a mission to narrow down which establishments to assess once the Inquirer’s examination is complete, Haines said. In doing so, they will consider which institutions continue to have an impact on the society today, and where racial, gender and other disparities are evident.
“We know that the Inquirer has work to do to become an antiracist organization, and we believe this project is an important step on that journey,” said Haines. “As the project centers on various institutions, we will focus on people on the ground, not just those in power. We plan to use as many diverse voices and perspectives as possible in telling these stories.”