The past month has been a traumatic one at the East Bay Express. As the paper’s publisher and onetime editor, I consider furthering our journalistic mission to be my life’s work. Yet as the person most responsible for our current troubles, I now feel a need to directly address our readers.
One night about a month ago, I read some week-old online coverage that did not live up to my editorial standards. So, I took the stories down the next morning and promptly explained my concerns to the author and editors.
One story described white people singing along to live hip-hop songs that contained the N-word. This is a worthy topic for coverage, and I said as much. But while referring to hateful words subsequently reclaimed by the communities they once oppressed, I said a couple of those words aloud. I should not have done so and am extremely sorry that my remark caused others pain.
I also should not have unilaterally taken down the articles. Instead, I should have respected our editorial structure and taken my feedback directly to our editorial management so that the editors and author might have addressed my concerns without permanently removing the pieces from our website. I am sorry for the way I disrespected the writer and editors involved in that coverage.
As a journalist long devoted to holding other people accountable for their failings, I now must hold myself accountable for mine. This course of action feels all the more necessary given my abhorrence for the hateful racism of President Trump. I’m also writing as someone well aware of the East Bay’s current centrality in reframing the national understanding of topics such as race and injustice.
To address the concerns raised by my actions and leave no confusion about my goals or those of our company, I am committed to the following course of action:
* I pledge to keep working to increase the diversity of our company’s staff. Newspapers should reflect the makeup of their communities, and since my return to the Express last year, more than half our hiring has been of people of color. But we can still do better. In addition to this commitment, we will soon seek to fund an ongoing paid internship for a young journalist of color.
* We are convening a committee to create a code of conduct governing race, gender, diversity, inclusion, sexual orientation, and related topics. The resultant guidelines will apply to everyone on staff, myself included. As part of this initiative, I will attend implicit bias training and work to identify and eliminate any additional personal blind spots.
* We also will establish a clear policy that fully articulates how the publisher should address any future editorial concerns.
* Finally, we will convene a separate panel to codify our company’s editorial guidelines and ethical standards.
For almost four decades, the East Bay Express has been in the vanguard of helping its readers think about matters of race, diversity, and inclusion. But our vision has more often focused outside our walls than within them. Now is the time for that to change.
Before the year’s end, I’ll report back on how I have honored these commitments.
Stephen Buel is publisher of the East Bay Express. He has been a co-owner of the paper since 2007 and served as its editor from 2001 to 2010.