Many news publications have recently had to confront issues of diversity and inclusion, and The Philadelphia Inquirer is no exception. Last summer, the publication was the center of controversy after an article titled “Buildings Matter, Too” was published during anti-police brutality protests that rocked the country. The article was the catalyst for staff protest and the resignation of the publication’s top editor. In discussions with the Inquirer about an audit, David Boardman, dean of Klein College of Media and Communication and chair of the Lenfest Institute for Journalism, offered the research services of Klein’s faculty and staff and later assembled the audit team.
There was no shortage of information to uncover, especially given the Inquirer’s history with diversity and inclusion issues. For several years, Arlene Morgan, Klein’s assistant dean for external affairs, previously held leadership positions at the Inquirer. Before she left the publication in 2000 she took the reins on diversity and inclusion initiatives. The results of her combined effort with other staff were noticeable: the publication started receiving more engagement from non-white readers and contributors and began hiring more people of color to cover various beats.
While at the Inquirer, Morgan even developed a diversity and inclusion workshop for media professionals that later developed into the Let’s Do It Better! Workshop on Journalism, Race and Ethnicity at the Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism. Let’s Do It Better! resulted in The Authentic Voice: The Best Reporting on Race and Ethnicity, a multimedia teaching tool based on stories used in the workshop.
However, such changes did not last at the Inquirer forever. By the time of this most recent audit, the publication had returned to struggling with many of the same issues that Morgan had made strides in combating decades earlier.
Luckily, Andrea Wenzel, co-chair of the recent audit, is also familiar with this kind of work. The assistant professor in the Department of Journalism was faced with making similar observations when documenting the outcomes of a cultural competency project launched by WHYY, the findings of which were published in 2019.
Throughout the Inquirer audit, Wenzel had the benefit of working with journalism powerhouses such as the late Bryan Monroe, a champion of diversity and inclusion in media and journalism professor who served as the audit’s other co-chair and died in January before the completion of the audit. The collaborative effort was also aided by representatives of the Inquirer and members of the Lenfest Institute for Journalism. Coverage data was collected from the publication from six weeks of randomly selected dates between August 2019 and July 2020.
Linn Washington, a professor in the Department of Journalism, and Marnice Charles, assistant director for recruitment at Klein, worked closely on the audit with graduate students at Klein who they trained to code more than 3,000 stories and elements. The students were able to collect revelatory data about the publication’s coverage practices, including that the vast majority of people who appear in the Inquirer are white and male and that most non-white subjects in the paper’s coverage are featured in sports, particularly Black subjects.
After Monroe’s sudden passing, the audit team not only personally felt the impact of his absence but also experienced it in the context of their work. Aron Pilhofer, the James B. Steele Chair in Journalism Innovation at Temple University, was brought on to assist with quantitative data shortly before Monroe died. Along with audit team member Jillian Bauer-Reese, he was a point person for analyzing the data. He recognizes that while the publication’s numbers are not as strong as they could be in terms of representation, the data is a stark reminder that the work the publication has to do is necessary.
“Anyone who’s ever worked in this business knows news doesn’t have a particularly great track record when it comes to diversity and inclusion, either in terms of who is working in news and/or who is being covered,” he says. “So it didn’t surprise me when the numbers came out the way they did but I guess it’s a difference between seeing it in black and white right there in front of you versus something you haven’t really quantified.”
Similarly, Wenzel worked with Christopher Malo, content curator and community liaison in the Department of Journalism, on 46 anonymized interviews with staff at the Inquirer. Based on speaking with staff and hearing their concerns about employment practices and the quality and quantity of stories about people of color covered in the publication, she recognizes that the findings of the audit require the Inquirer’s immediate attention if it wants to make measurable and substantial change. She also believes that some of the key takeaways from the audit can translate to other areas of journalism.
“We’re all eager to think about how we applied some of the things that we’ve been learning and talking about and considering to journalism education as well,” Wenzel says. “Because I think it’s important that as a school, Klein thinks about, ‘Are there ways that we can improve the way we talk about anti-racism and the field of journalism in our work, in our reporting skills that we work on with students?’”
Morgan agrees and believes that such changes are not limited to traditional newsrooms.
“Hopefully we can get The Temple News and student media at Temple to think about its diversity issues and where it needs to go,” she says. “So it’ll be interesting to see how this audit really challenges a lot of thinking, whether it’s student media, professional media or in the journalism classroom.”
According to Washington, who has advocated for diversity and inclusion as one of the few people of color working in various newsrooms and beats throughout his career, everyone’s contributions to this project made a difference.
“I was impressed with not only the competencies of both the representatives from the Inquirer that worked on the analysis and my colleagues but also the sincerity that everybody got into this project with, that they really wanted to make sure that everything was right and tidy,” he says. “They wanted to make sure that it was as objective and fact-based as possible, that individual perceptions or biases would not creep in to pollute our findings. I can say for an absolute fact that there are no hidden agendas here, just dealing with the information as it is.”
Charles is also enthusiastic about the potential changes that could come as a result of the information uncovered through the audit. Having previously held positions at USA Today as project manager for diversity and employer branding and the Inquirer as a diversity and inclusion partner, she is looking forward to seeing the publication make progress on the findings and called the audit “such powerful work.”
“This audit is personally meaningful to me as not only a Black female but one who began my career in HR,” she says. “This audit really shows the importance and need of more inclusive coverage along with more inclusive staff. So my hope is that the recommendations offered in this report are strongly considered to really reshape journalism in our region and beyond.”
Although the audit is meaningful for the Inquirer and can be used as a model for publications looking to put their coverage and employment practices under a microscope, Wenzel and the other members of the audit team ultimately want the completed project to make Monroe proud.
“We’re all trying to honor Bryan’s legacy too and I hope that that nudges the Inquirer, even more, knowing that,” Wenzel says.
The findings from the audit were presented to the leadership and staff of the Inquirer on February 10. Visit this link for the complete audit report. Wenzel also published a piece summarising the audit with Poynter.