The Philadelphia Inquirer published a column titled 'Buildings Matter, Too,' and journalists of colour penned an open letter 'calling in sick and tired'

Mark Makela/Getty ImagesProtesters race up a hill after being shot by tear gas after a march through Centre City on June 1, 2020 in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.
  • After The Philadelphia Inquirer published a column under the print headline “Buildings Matter, Too,” 44 journalists of colour at the daily newspaper signed an open letter to management condemning the decision and calling in sick.
  • One day after the controversial headline caused criticism online, the newspaper apologised for its wording in an editorial. But many Black journalists at The Inquirer called on leadership “to do better.”
  • The controversy comes amid a similar uproar among staffers at The New York Times, whose opinions section published an op-ed by a Republican senator calling for the US to deploy the military to quell police brutality protests throughout the country.
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44 journalists of colour at The Philadelphia Inquirer signed a letter to management calling in “sick and tired” on Thursday after the daily newspaper printed the headline, “Buildings Matter, Too.”

The print headline accompanied a column by architecture critic Inga Saffon, which analysed how the damage to cities during the police brutality protests sparked by George Floyd’s death “will ultimately end up hurting the very people the protests are meant to uplift.”

On June 3, one day after the controversial headline caused criticism online, the newspaper apologised for its wording in an editorial. “An Inquirer headline suggested an equivalence between the loss of buildings and the lives of black Americans. That is unacceptable,” the article said. The Inquirer went on to explain its headline-writing process and shed light on how the decision was made.

The note, co-signed by the newsroom’s executive leadership, included an apology to journalists of colour at The Inquirer. “Finally, we apologise to Inquirer journalists, particularly those of colour, who expressed sadness, anger, and embarrassment in a two-hour newsroom-wide meeting Wednesday. An enormous amount of pressure sits on the shoulders of black and brown Inquirer journalists, and mistakes like this, made by the publication they work for, are profoundly demoralising,” the article said.

Still, many Black journalists at The Inquirer called on leadership “to do better,” as features reporter Brandon Bell said in a tweet. The open letter addressed the burden shouldered by Black and nonwhite journalists, especially during a time like this, as many newsroom leaders across the country grapple with how to report on the protests.

“We’re tired of shouldering the burden of dragging this 200-year-old institution kicking and screaming into a more equitable age. We’re tired of being told of the progress the company has made and being served platitudes about ‘diversity and inclusion’ when we raise our concerns. We’re tired of seeing our words and photos twisted to fit a narrative that does not reflect our reality. We’re tired of being told to show both sides of issues there are no two sides of,” the open letter said.

“On June 4, we’re calling in sick and tired. Sick and tired of pretending things are OK. Sick and tired of not being heard. It is an act that pains us, knowing that now more than ever it is our duty and responsibility to uplift the marginalised voices of our community. But in this moment, it is more important for us to stand alongside those who have risen up against systemic racism and inequities and call on the Inquirer to do better. To be better.”

The letter comes amid a similar controversy at The New York Times, which published an op-ed by Republican Sen. Tom Cotton of Arkansas that called for the US military to send troops to quell the “orgy of violence in the spirit of radical chic.” Black and nonblack employees of The New York Times have voiced their frustration over the article on Twitter, leading to an explanation of the Times’ decision to publish the piece from Editorial Page Editor James Bennet.

At least three Times journalists told their editors that sources refused to participate in interviews in light of Cotton’s article, the newspaper reported.

Nikole-Hannah Jones, a Pulitzer Prize-winning reporter at The New York Times Magazine who led the groundbreaking 1619 Project last fall, said in a tweet that to stay silent on the Cotton article “would be immoral.”

“As a black woman, as a journalist, as an American, I am deeply ashamed that we ran this,” she said.

https://twitter.com/nhannahjones/status/1268334601166106624?ref_src=twsrc^tfw

“Times Opinion owes it to our readers to show them counter-arguments, particularly those made by people in a position to set policy,” Bennet said in a tweet.

The “buildings matter, too” rhetoric, which conflates buildings with Black lives, has grown in the last week, as peaceful protests across the US have at times led to violence and looting. In many cases, police officers have been caught on camera inciting violence at peaceful protests, and many followers of fringe movements, including the Boogaloo Bois, have appeared at protests to stoke violence.

Insider has reached out to The Philadelphia Inquirer for comment.

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