In response to complaints by staffers at The Inquirer that the newsroom lost a disproportionate number of minority journalists in layoffs earlier this month, publisher Brian Tierney agreed yesterday to reinstate a diversity committee that he said previous management had allowed to lapse.
But Tierney and Inquirer editor William K. Marimow, who met yesterday with members of an ad hoc group of staff members protesting the cuts, said they could not promise to meet another of its goals: rescinding some of the layoffs.
"It depends upon the economics," Tierney said during an interview after the meeting. "We did them because of the business situation, not for any other reasons."
Of 25 reporters who lost their jobs, 10 are African American, according to their union, the Newspaper Guild. Overall, about 30 percent of the 71 editorial staff members who were cut were African American or Asian American, the staff group said in a statement after some of its members met with Tierney, Marimow and other managers.
"This is not an issue of civil rights. It's an issue of good journalism," said Acel Moore, who became the Inquirer's associate editor emeritus after a pathbreaking career as one of the paper's first and most prominent black journalists.
In its statement, the group of 27 staffers said newsroom diversity was crucial to the paper's ability to cover the region's diverse population, from the city's mayoral election to trends in music and the arts.
The group said also that having fewer minority editors would make it harder for the paper to judge the importance of stories to its readers and would raise the risks that the paper would unwittingly publish more "cultural and ethnic slights."
Even before the layoffs, the group said, The Inquirer's newsroom staff "was a poor reflection of the community it covers."
Newspaper officials declined to say whether any layoffs might be rescinded, which the Newspaper Guild said would be possible if management allowed senior staffers to accept "voluntary layoffs" in place of those who were cut.
But Tierney and Marimow both said maintaining a diverse staff was among their priorities.
"It's important journalistically, it's important to our business, and it's important because it's just right," Marimow said during an interview.
Tierney blamed the disproportionate loss of minority staffers on contract rules that, in general, required the company to cut its most recently hired staffers. He said a list of reporters' positions that the union and management agreed to exempt from the seniority list "didn't hurt diversity."
Minority staffers said the protections for certain jobs, such as for members of The Inquirer's City Hall and Harrisburg bureaus, had not helped.
"Our estimate is that the carve-outs protected 18 whites, 3 African Americans, and 1 Asian reporter," said Sarah Glover, an Inquirer photographer who spoke at a news conference after the meeting with management.
"We need to make diversity a priority in action, not just in words," Glover said.
Tierney said that, despite the effect on the newsroom, the recent layoffs of more than 100 journalists and advertising staffers had done little damage to overall staff diversity at Philadelphia Media Holdings L.L.C., the company he formed last year to buy The Inquirer and Philadelphia Daily News. He said about 28 percent of the company's employees were minorities, which he said was similar to the overall market.
Tierney said he would welcome the chance to rehire minority and other staff members, if business conditions permit. He said he hoped recent gains in circulation would continue and would ease the financial strain facing the newspaper publisher.