Philadelphia Inquirer reporters skip work after paper publishes 'Buildings Matter, Too' headline

Philadelphia Inquirer reporters skip work after paper publishes 'Buildings Matter, Too' headline
© Philadelphia Inquirer

More than 40 staffers at the Philadelphia Inquirer called in "sick and tired" Thursday following the newspaper's publication of a headline that read "Buildings Matter, Too" amid nationwide protests over the police killing of George Floyd.

In an open letter to the newspaper's leadership, the employees said "careless, unempathetic decisions" were eroding their efforts to establish trust with Philadelphia-area communities. The staffers demanded that the newspaper initiate a "full, transparent commitment to changing how we do business."

"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," the letter read.

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More than 40 journalists of color had signed the letter as of Thursday morning, with many sharing their frustrations on social media.

The move comes as the the Inquirer weathers the fallout of a Tuesday print headline that co-opted the phrase, "Black Lives Matter." The headline, which read, "Buildings Matter, Too," was associated with an op-ed arguing that protesters' anger was justified, but that the destruction of property was hurting their cause.

Many argued that the headline suggested there was an equivalence between property damage and the police killings of African Americans.

“By co-opting the activist battlecry ‘Black Lives Matter’ for a tone-deaf headline, Philadelphia Inquirer antagonized an already intense national conversation on race,” Ernest Owens, vice president of print for the Philadelphia Association of Black Journalists, said in a statement. “Sensitivity for Black communities and readers right now in the middle of protests against racial injustice should weigh more than ignorant editorial punchlines.”

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The Inquirer's top editors issued an apology on Wednesday, acknowledging that the headline "offensively riffed on the Black Lives Matter movement" and that it was "unacceptable."

"While no such comparison was intended, intent is ultimately irrelevant," the editors said, noting that the incident showcased the need for changes in its editing and headline-writing process.

In their letter, journalists at the Inquirer argued that carelessness from leadership made it harder for them to do their jobs and "at worst, puts our lives at risk." They called for a transparent plan with deadlines that addresses the failures that led to the headline.

"Your embarrassment is not worth more than our humanity," the letter added. "This is what it means to 'give a damn.'”

The move by Inquirer employees comes a day after several New York Times journalists publicly rebuked the newspaper after it published an op-ed from Republican Sen. Tom CottonTom Bryant CottonPublic letter in Harper's sparks furor Koch-backed group urges Senate to oppose 'bailouts' of states in new ads Lincoln Project offers list of GOP senators who 'protect' Trump in new ad MORE (Ark.) pushing for military intervention to quell domestic protests.

Staffers said in social media posts that the decision to share the op-ed was putting African American employees in danger.

Protests have swept the nation in the days following the death of Floyd, an unarmed African American man who was killed when a Minneapolis police officer knelt on his neck for nearly nine minutes as Floyd said, "I can't breathe."

Some of the demonstrations have involved violent confrontations between police and demonstrators, as well as the destruction of public and private property.