The top editor at the Philadelphia Inquirer, Stan Wischnowski, has resigned following backlash on social media from a controversial "Buildings Matter, Too" headline that appeared on a column about the impact of civil unrest following the death of George Floyd in Minneapolis.
In a statement Saturday, publisher Lisa Hughes said that Wischnowski "has decided to step down as senior vice president and executive editor" and thanked him for his 20 years of service. Wischnowski will formally leave the paper on June 12.
While no successor has been officially announced, Hughes said managing editor Patrick Kerkstra and editor Gabe Escobar will lead the paper's newsroom in the interim.
"We will use this moment to evaluate the organizational structure and processes of the newsroom, assess what we need, and look both internally and externally for a seasoned leader who embodies our values, embraces our shared strategy, and understands the diversity of the communities we serve," Hughes said. "While we conduct this evaluation and search, I am confident in [editor] Gabe Escobar and [managing editor] Patrick Kerkstra's ability to continue to lead our newsroom in their current roles."
Josh Kopelman, board chair of The Inquirer, praised Wischnowski for his service and accomplishments, adding that he "helped drive our first steps to improve the diversity in the newsroom." Jim Friedlich, executive director of the Lenfest Insitute for Journalism, which owns the newspaper, added that "the Inquirer's newsroom has made Philadelphia a better place" under Wischnowski's leadership.
Wischnowski, 58, joined the Inquirer in 2000. Ten years later, he became the paper's fifth editor in 10 years, replacing William K. Marimow. In addition to running the Inquirer, Wischnowski was in charge of its sister paper, the Daily News, and website, Inquirer.com.
According to the paper, he was a key creator of the paper's Spotlight PA team, which provided news outlets across Pennsylvania with investigative coverage of the state government and led the Inquirer during its investigative series on violence in Philadelphia schools which was awarded the Pulitzer Prize for Public Service.
The controversial headline sparked outrage this week, prompting an apology letter signed by Wischnowski, Escobar and Kerkstra.
"The Philadelphia Inquirer published a headline in Tuesday's edition that was deeply offensive," the letter read. "We should not have printed it. We're sorry, and regret that we did. We also know that an apology on its own is not sufficient."
The editors added that the incident "makes clear that changes are needed, and we are committing to start immediately."
In the letter, they promised to review the paper's editing process and implement "safeguards to flag sensitive content and prevent single-person publication" and define a process for "flagging, discussing and publicly disclosing lapses in editorial judgment that aren't addressed with a simple factual correction."
The paper's leadership also said that they would continue training and discussions around cultural sensitivity and expand on their commitment to "build a newsroom that better reflects the community it serves, with more recruiting resources and requirements for diverse finalist pools."
Forty-four journalists of color at the Inquirer said in an open letter to leadership that they were "sick and tired of not being heard."
"We're tired of shouldering the burden of dragging this 200-year-old institution kicking and screaming into a more equitable age," the journalists wrote. "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. Things need to change."
They argued that the carelessness by leadership makes it harder for them to do their jobs and "at worst puts our lives at risk" and demanded the Inquirer take action to provide a "full, transparent commitment to changing how we do business." In addition, the journalists called out of work on Thursday to "stand alongside those who have risen up against systemic racism and inequities and call on the Inquirer to do better."
"This is not the start of a conversation; this conversation has been started time and time again," the journalists added. "If we are to walk into a better world, we need to do it with our chests forward—acknowledge and accept where we make mistakes, and show how we learn from them. Your embarrassment is not worth more than our humanity."