Nearly 70 cut in Philly — Let the bumping begin!

More McClatchy fallout

There are 68 members of the Inquirer newsroom being laid off this week. Some editors called in “their people” for closed-door sessions Tuesday afternoon. Other learned by phone after work. They’re to have appointments today in HR, both those laid off and those who had to lay them off.

It’s all a little vague because the contract delivers “bumping rights” — the process may play out for weeks — potentially longer if there are legal challenges. Bumping rights are set up by the Guild so that seniority rules and someone with six more months experience than another may bump them out of their job. Sounds like something right out of the former Soviet Union.

More clear is who got the news. The NBA writer, David Aldridge, was in Denver covering the Sixers when he found out. (That was a hell of a gig). The national political reporter, Tom Fitzgerald, heard from a friend. The “gaming” columnist, Rob Watson found out his trips to Atlantic City would be on his dime now.

And now this letter to the Philadelphia Inquirer Publisher:

It seems it’s not the character of one’s writing content, but the color of one’s skin…

January 3, 2007

Brian P. Tierney
CEO and Publisher
The Philadelphia Inquirer
400 North Broad Street
Philadelphia, PA 19130

Dear Mr. Tierney:

We are writing you today in the wake of the recent layoffs initiated at The Philadelphia Inquirer and the profound impact they will have on diversity and journalism.

The National Association of Black Journalists understands the financial challenges that your company is going through. As the landscape of American journalism continues to evolve, newspapers across the country increasingly face a need to make hard decisions in an effort to advance the product.

However, as an organization, we are troubled by what seems to be a growing trend in the industry, which is to layoff African-Americans and minorities at a lopsided level. That trend was demonstrated severely today by The Inquirer’s elimination of a disproportionate number of African American journalists.

Of the 71 names on your latest layoff list, we understand that as many as 14-16 of the journalists targeted are African-American, or as much as 22.5 percent of the layoffs. That percentage is nearly double the proportion of blacks in the newsroom at the Inquirer, which was 11.3 percent in 2006, according to the latest ASNE survey.

You have stated publicly how important diversity is to the future of the Inquirer and Daily News, and how vital having a staff that reflects your core communities is to the health and success of your enterprise. However, your action today takes you and the newspaper in the wrong direction.

With this latest round of layoffs, your newsroom diversity representation will surely decline. While many other papers are improving nationwide, you will actually be getting worse.

While we understand that seniority policies ended up protecting white staffers while colleagues of color — often the last hired — were at the top of the chopping block, it still doesn’t make it right. Actions like yours today to purge newsrooms of the valuable minority presence are counterproductive and hurt the industry, the city of Philadelphia, the nation and our democracy.

We encourage you to rethink your position and look for ways to preserve and increase the diversity of your newsrooms, not decrease it. We offer you the resources of NABJ to quickly help you in recruiting, training and retention, and look forward to discussing with you how you can reverse your alarming trend and do what is right for journalism and for your community. Meanwhile, NABJ will continue to monitor the situation.

Bryan Monroe
President, NABJ
Vice President & Editorial Director
Ebony + Jet Magazines

Can you imagine a day when the government enforces a quota system based on race on newspapers?

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40 thoughts on “Nearly 70 cut in Philly — Let the bumping begin!

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