Posted on March 11, 2013

Philly Mag’s “Being White in Philly” Doesn’t Make Sense as Journalism

Jason Fagone, The Philly Post, March 4, 2013

The March issue of Philadelphia magazine is unfortunate. I saw the issue late last week. I still have sort of a hard time believing it’s real.

{snip} I just wanted to make a few points about why I think the story — “Being White in Philly” — doesn’t make sense as journalism. That’s my lens, and that’s how I’ve been thinking about it.

The writer, Bob Huber, is a friend of mine. He’s hugely talented and has done an impressive amount of great work, but I think he’s misguided here, and I’ve already emailed him to tell him why. The way I see it, the story is doomed before Bob has a chance to write a single sentence. The framing is that this is a story about “being white.” It’s going to explore race from a single point of view. No black people will be quoted, no Hispanic people, no Asian people. (And they’re not.) This seems fatal to me. All Bob can accomplish within the frame of “being white” is exactly what he does accomplish, which is to chronicle the racial fears of one particular group of people, moving among his sources as a kind of confessor.

I say confessor because the quotes he gathers aren’t on the record. Sources are anonymous, names are changed. I don’t like this. I don’t see how you’re going launch a frank discussion of race — the stated goal of the piece, and a worthy one — under a cloak of anonymity.

Another thing I don’t like: The thrust of the piece seems to be that white people are afraid to talk about race because black people have made them feel uncomfortable talking about race. Therefore we can’t solve problems in the city, because a conversation is impossible. The implication is that this is black people’s fault. {snip}

The story is well-intentioned. It’s an earnest and heartfelt attempt to do a good thing — to get people to talk about something that matters. I know Bob well enough to say that. {snip} I fear our good work [journalism at Philly Mag] is going to get lost in the criticism. And we’re going to deserve it.