When we launched The Baltimore Banner earlier this year, we made a commitment to our readers and our staff – a commitment we try every day to live up to. We said we would deliver hard-hitting journalism that provides more depth and analysis. We said we would tell stories about undercovered communities and neighborhoods and that we’d do it with sensitivity with reporters and editors who better reflect this city. And we said, as stated in our mission, that we would “strengthen, unite and inspire.”
This week, we fell short of those commitments when we published an op-ed that very clearly caused pain to people, particularly in the transgender community, that we had no intention of harming. For that, I am sorry.
I want to walk through our process and talk about next steps.
We have a conservative columnist (a contributor, not a staff member) who writes every other week. His work appears in The Banner because I believe that we need to understand how people with a range of viewpoints think. We are a deeply divided country (and city), and if we can’t understand varying arguments and motivations — and we can’t engage in a public conversation and debate — how will we ever bridge the divide? When we brought Brian Griffiths on board, I knew his columns might be unpopular, but I was committed to running and editing them with care.
Which brings us to his latest piece. It was carefully edited and deeply debated internally by many editors. I went a step further and asked a couple of LGBTQ staffers to give it an additional read for cultural sensitivity, although the final decision did not rest on their shoulders. One of those reviews resulted in additional edits that provided more precision to language. The consensus among everyone who read it was that we didn’t like it and didn’t agree with it, but it was his opinion, one he is entitled to. I made the final decision to publish.
This week has underscored a truth that I have tried to remember every day. Trust — especially in a community that has been deeply wronged by the media over decades — is hard to earn, but easily broken.
We will never stop trying to earn your trust. It is a responsibility that weighs heavily on me, and on the entire staff. We remain deeply committed to serving this city and region with much-needed, high-quality local journalism. I am particularly saddened that this op-ed has overshadowed so much of our excellent work, especially our extensive coverage of the LGBTQ community. We are not perfect, and there will be stumbles along the way. But we are listening and learning.
We are taking a number of steps to provide more transparency and accountability.
Most significantly, we are hiring a public editor. This was a decision we made several weeks ago, and I am happy to announce that we finally have news we can share. DeWayne Wickham, the former founding dean of the School of Global Journalism at Morgan State University, has agreed to take on this important role. Wickham, who grew up in Cherry Hill, is a former USA Today columnist and a co-founder and former president of the National Association for Black Journalists. He understands journalism, ethics and our city. As an independent contractor, Wickham will have the freedom to write about our coverage — to question it, criticize it, explain it. We want him to hold us accountable to our decisions and coverage. He will also respond to readers who have questions and concerns. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. He will write a column soon introducing himself and explaining how he will tackle this responsibility.
Additionally, this week, we will publish guidelines for our Community Voices op-eds, including how to submit them. We are also hiring an opinion editor. This will provide more oversight by an editor whose job is to edit and solicit submissions. It will also provide additional separation between opinion and news.
Thank you for taking the time to read this. And for those sources, subscribers, community members and staff members who reached out with thoughtful criticism, I appreciate your feedback.