Philadelphia magazine responds to calls for racial diversity after October cover controversy

Philadelphia magazine has announced a company-wide diversity plan following the controversy over its October 2015 cover, which resulted in a call from the Philadelphia Association of Black Journalists for editor Tom McGrath to resign.

McGrath responded to the PABJ’s request in a letter addressed to president Cherri Gregg earlier today, which Philly Mag published in full on its website. In it, McGrath declines a resignation while providing a set of “diversity initiatives” that the publication hopes will alleviate the lack of racial diversity on its staff.

(Full disclosure: I am a former Philadelphia magazine staffer.)

“We are committed to creating an environment in which all employees feel included, are treated with dignity and respect, and are in a position to contribute to our success,” McGrath writes. “As a media company, we have a special obligation to the people in our respective communities not only to employ staff who represent the diverse and rich cultures in our regions, but also to provide content to our audience that reflects and engages those cultures.”

To that end, McGrath writes that Philly Mag’s parent company, Metro Corp, which also owns Boston magazine, will make changes to its working environment, including diversity training for current and future editors, a diversity committee, recruitment of persons of color to the staff, and a fellowship targeted at “low-income college students.”

Some of those changes will apparently be made directly, with the magazine indicating that many goals are set to be achieved “in the fall of 2015.” Several initiatives, though, will be completed by 2016’s conclusion, including minority hiring on senior staff. One additional person of color will be added to the magazine’s “regular” staff by the conclusion of fall 2015.

“We take seriously the issues raised by you and others in the last week and look forward to making significant progress on them in the weeks and months ahead,” McGrath wrote to conclude his letter.

When reached today, McGrath had no further comment on the company's diversity initiatives.

Controversy over Philly Mag’s October 2015 cover began shortly after the issue was released, with critics blasting the magazine over not including any African-American students in the cover photo advertising the issue’s main story about city schools. The school where the photo was taken, Albert M. Greenfield Elementary School, is 60 percent non-white. Philadelphia public schools, meanwhile, are 52 percent African American, 19 percent Hispanic, 15 percent other races, and 14 percent white.

“We blew it,” McGrath wrote in an apology last week. “To include not even one African American child on the cover fails to reflect not just that diversity exists at the Greenfield School, but also within the city of Philadelphia.”

The article itself, “A City Parent’s Guide to Schools: How to get your kid a great education without moving to the ‘burbs” was designed as a service piece for parents looking for a city school, be it public, parochial, or private.

This most recent race-based controversy is the second such incident for the magazine in about as many years, with March 2013’s “Being White in Philly” article inspiring similar outrage. Following that piece’s release, the magazine similarly promised to hire more minority staffers.

“We made some progress,” McGrath wrote in last week’s apology. “But obviously not enough.”

More information about Philly Mag’s proposed diversity initiatives is available here.