The Philadelphia Inquirer today published the first chapter of A More Perfect Union, a new yearlong reporting series examining the roots of systemic racism in the United States through institutions founded in Philadelphia.
Because Philadelphia is the birthplace of American democracy and many of the nation’s oldest institutions, it became the place where systemic racism was often enshrined within those same institutions. A More Perfect Union seeks to hold institutions accountable for enforcing this unequal structure and illuminate a solutions-oriented path forward.
Chapter One focuses on The Inquirer itself. Written by Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist Wesley Lowery, the report is based on more than 75 interviews with current and former Inquirer staff members, Lenfest Institute leadership, local journalists, historians, and Philadelphians.
The report sheds light on The Inquirer’s past efforts at racial integration and attempts to better recruit journalists of color. It also interrogates The Inquirer’s current commitments to becoming a more equitable and representative organization.
“Today, in response to a new civil rights movement, The Inquirer’s leadership has made a bold new pledge: to be an anti-racist institution,” Lowery writes. “But whether — and how — a newspaper that, for generations, has remained complicit in systemic inequality can now be a collaborator in its defeat remains significantly less clear. What is apparent is that it will be impossible for the paper to navigate the challenges of the present, much less chart a path into the future, without first understanding its past.”
The Inquirer’s current equity efforts stand out “as perhaps the most sweeping and sustained efforts undertaken by any news organization in the years since George Floyd’s death,” Lowery writes.
A More Perfect Union is led by Errin Haines, editor-at-large of The 19th*, a national news site focused on issues of gender and racial equity, and a member of The Lenfest Institute’s Board of Managers. Haines edited the first installment, and Inquirer editors did not vet the report, nor were they involved in its reporting or editing.
Washington Post media columnist Margaret Sullivan also reported on the launch today, speaking with Lowery, Haines, and leaders at The Inquirer and The Lenfest Institute. Sullivan wrote, “It is notable – and brave – that the paper’s publisher and top editors were entirely hands-off with this investigation. They believed that their noninvolvement was a necessity, for credibility’s sake. Haines told me they kept their promise and left the project in her hands.”
The project will continue in the coming months with additional installments that focus on other leading Philadelphia institutions.
A More Perfect Union is supported with funding from The Lenfest Institute. Other supporters include Lisa D. Kabnick and John H. McFadden and Peter and Judy Leone. All of the series’ editorial coverage is produced independently of the project’s donors.