Over the weekend, the Philadelphia Association of Black Journalists (PABJ) held its annual awards and scholarship gala at Quorum – University City Science Center in Philadelphia. The event historically recognizes extraordinary journalism, communications, and community standouts were recognized and this year decided to also recognize unacceptable examples in reporting, media management and community activism. The Thumbs Down Award was presented in person to one of the nation’s oldest and most widely respected publications, generating much buzz among journalism communities.
“During our PABJ Awards, we gave our first-ever Thumbs Down Award to Philadelphia Inquirer for failing to engage with affinity groups such as us, AAJA Philadelphia, NAHJ Philadelphia and Free Press,” according to a statement PABJ posted to social media. “We must ‘inspect what we expect’ from media companies who claim to be about DEI advocacy.”
The Inquirer did not know they were going to receive the award, according to PABJ.
How did it get to this? Following George Floyd’s murder, PABJ met with the Inquirer to advance diversity, equity and inclusion in the organization. “The last meeting was right after George Floyd,” PABJ President Ernest Owens tells Marcom Weekly. “We created a plan and a diversity agreement and they did not honor the promises they made in that agreement. There’s been a mass exodus of Black employees leaving the Inquirer and there haven’t been much updates on what they are doing… they haven’t properly engaged us.”
At the Awards, a description of the award was projected onto the big screen revealing this year’s winner of the PABJ Thumbs Down Award as The Philadelphia Inquirer. The iconic newsroom logo sat above a description that read, “For failing to engage affinity groups on DEI efforts, disregarding diverse media leaders, gaslighting coalitions who are trying to hold them accountable, not seriously addressing grievances made by communities and employees of color.”
Sitting in the audience was the publication’s top editor Gabriel Escobar, who was promoted to senior vice president and editor in November 2020, as Owens announced the award and PABJ board member Tauhid Chappell, a former Inquirer journalist, presented the award to Escobar.
“Talk to the affinity groups, listen to the affinity groups,” Owens can be heard saying as Escobar accepts the award from Chappell, in a video circulating social media.
— Ernest Owens (@MrErnestOwens) November 13, 2022
“We knew it was going to be a big moment, but we didn’t know how big it was going be,” Owens tells Marcom Weekly.
Owens says PABJ is open to having a meeting with them and said they have not received a response yet.
@mrernestowens As President of the Philadelphia Association of Black Journalists, I had the honor of awarding The Philadelphia Inquirer the first-ever PABJ Thumbs Down Awards for failing on their DEI efforts. Their Executive Editor and their DEI VP was present to accept the award. 🏆 #philly #diversity #media #news #philadelphia #dei #journalism #breakingnews ♬ original sound – Ernest Owens
Projected on a large screen read why The Philadelphia Inquirer is this year’s winner: “For failing to engage affinity groups on DEI efforts, disregarding diverse media leaders, gaslighting coalitions who are trying to hold them accountable, not seriously addressing grievances made by communities and employees of color.”
.@pabj Pres. @MrErnestOwens announced tonight the first ever PABJ Thumbs Down Award to the @PhillyInquirer for the reasons in the photo today. The actual award was walked over and given to Inquirer Exec. Editor, who was in the audience. #pabjawards pic.twitter.com/ftwmyws1QF
— Vincent Thompson/Thompson Mediaman Communications (@mediamancomm) November 13, 2022
The Inquirer did not respond to request for comment by the time this story was published.
In addition to the Thumbs Down Award, PABJ recognized several other honorees at its annual event:
Veteran anchor Rick Williams received the 2022 Broadcast Journalist of the Year Award. Rick has kept 6abc viewers informed for more than 30 years as an anchor and reporter. In January of this year, he assumed his role as anchor of Action News at 11 p.m.
NBC10 Philadelphia/WCAU and Telemundo62/WWSI President and General Manager Ric Harris received the PABJ Impact Award for his work to positively impact diversity in newsrooms and coverage affecting African Americans or Black people of African descent.
Ronald Gray received the Visual Journalist of the Year Award. As a photographer and freelance photojournalist, Ronald captures the beauty, community, challenges, culture and love of the Black community.
Scott Charles was honored with the PABJ Community Service Award for his tireless efforts to address victim trauma as a key to ending gun violence. As the trauma outreach manager at Temple University Hospital, Charles’ primary duties are to oversee Temple’s violence prevention and intervention initiatives, along with victim assistance.
Jos Duncan Asé received the Trailblazer Award. As the founder, executive producer & publisher of Love Now Media, an empathy-centered media company that uses storytelling to amplify acts of love at the intersection of social justice, wellness, and equity, she uses her voice and her platforms to empower diverse communities to create and tell their own stories.