Craig R. McCoy, Philadelphia Inquirer, June 6, 2020
Stan Wischnowski, the top editor of The Philadelphia Inquirer, has announced his resignation, days after discontent among the newspaper’s staff erupted over a headline on a column about the impact of the civil unrest following the police killing of George Floyd in Minneapolis.
Wischnowski, 58, led the paper over two turbulent periods in recent years, driving it; its sister paper, the Daily News; and its website, Inquirer.com, to reshape themselves as the digital age transformed the news business. He was key in the creation of Spotlight PA, a new multireporter team to provide news outlets across Pennsylvania with investigative coverage of state government. He also was in charge in 2011 when The Inquirer investigated violence within Philadelphia schools, a series awarded the Pulitzer Prize for Public Service.
In a statement Saturday afternoon, publisher Lisa Hughes said that Wischnowski “has decided to step down as senior vice president and executive editor.” She thanked him for his 20 years working at the paper and serving as executive editor.
He will formally leave the paper on June 12. No successor was named, but Hughes wrote to the staff that “We will use this moment to evaluate the organizational structure and processes of the newsroom, assess what we need, and look both internally and externally for a seasoned leader who embodies our values, embraces our shared strategy, and understands the diversity of the communities we serve.
“While we conduct this evaluation and search, I am confident in [editor] Gabe Escobar and [managing editor] Patrick Kerkstra’s ability to continue to lead our newsroom in their current roles.”
Wischnowski declined comment. Hughes, through a spokesperson, said she would have no further comment.
It was the placement of an insensitive headline over Inga Saffron’s column in the Tuesday newspaper that may have set the stage for Wischnowski’s departure. He joined the two other top editors in signing an apology to readers and staff, characterizing the headline, “Buildings Matter, Too,” as “deeply offensive” and apologizing for it. The column had explored the destruction of buildings amid the looting that accompanied some of the nationwide protests over police violence.
Even before the headline was published, Wischnowski and other editors had scheduled a staffwide Zoom meeting to discuss race at The Inquirer and the pressures in particular faced by journalists of color.
Hours after the wrenching Zoom session, about 50 journalists of color signed an open letter calling for faster changes at the paper. The following day, most of the minority staff took the day off from work in protest.
In a message to union members Saturday night, Diane Mastrull, an Inquirer journalist who heads the Newspaper Guild local at the paper, wrote: “To my colleagues of color, please take heart that you have been heard.”
She added: “But you must not grow silent. There is much within the Inquirer that still needs to change.”