Philly Magazine editor apologizes for 'stupid' cover

Update: This story has been updated to clarify Keith Leaphart's relationship with Philadelphia Media Network L.L.C.

Philadelphia Magazine issued an apology on its website Tuesday afternoon after an onslaught of negative reaction to the cover of its October 2015 issue.

The lead story on the diversity of education in city schools features a photo that has no African American students, even though their school is 60 percent non-white.

Tom McGrath, the magazine's editor, took responsibility for the photo, which shows seven students from Albert M. Greenfield Elementary School sitting along a brick wall outside its Center City campus.

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

"I'll offer no excuses here about process," he added. "At the end of the day, I chose this photo for the cover, and it was without question the wrong choice."

The title of the article, "A city parent's guide to schools: How to get your kid a great education . . . without moving to the 'burbs," was intended to be a parental reference for choosing a city school, including public, private, parochial, and charter schools.

But when the cover neglected to reflect the racial diversity of the city's schools - 52 percent black, 19 percent Hispanic, 14 percent white, 15 percent other races - backlash spread across social media Monday night into Tuesday morning.

Christopher Rogers, an adjunct education professor at Arcadia University and a  technology specialist at Greene Street Friends School, wrote in an email to Philly.com that he felt the cover was more of a "Freudian slip than inadvertent incompetence."

 "What troubles me more than the picture is that the writers believe, or that their audience of [insert Philly Mag demographic] believe about creating equitable education opportunities," Rogers wrote. "The idea that systemic injustice needs to take a back burner to "MY child" is the mechanics of a fear driven, market based system that only has hope for individual escape and refuses to work toward organizing a Philadelphia community so that ALL children may prosper."

 Rogers' school, a private kindergarten through eighth grade institution located in Germantown, was mentioned within the magazine's story under the sub headline: “Don’t assume all private schools cost more than your car”.

“Covers like this are very insensitive to minority communities,” Keith Leaphart, owner of Replica Creative, a design and print firm based in Philadelphia, wrote on Facebook. “They have the potential to divide the entire community even further. Please be more thoughtful in the future.”

Leaphart is also a board member of Philadelphia Media Network L.L.C., the corporate parent of the Philadelphia Inquirer, Philly.com and the Philadelphia Daily News. He is also chair of the Lenfest Foundation, founded by H.F. "Gerry" Lenfest, owner of the Philadelphia Media Network. 

The magazine's cover is the second controversial one involving race that the the publication has defended in the last 2 1/2 years. The March 2013 cover story, which documented a middle-aged white writer's experience interacting with the city's majority-black residents, was published with the headline "Being White in Philly."

After this story appeared, the magazine pledged to hire more minority staffers. Two messages left with the newsroom were not immediately returned.

In his apology, McGrath gave this status report: "We made some progress, but obviously not nearly enough."

"The magazine has always prided itself on taking on controversial subjects in Philadelphia," McGrath wrote. "But the October cover photo wasn't some brave journalistic stand. It was a stupid, insensitive decision that I deeply regret."

On its website, the magazine says it has paid print circulation of 117,000, down from 119,020 in August 2010.

TRowan@philly.com

215-854-2269

@tommyrowan