Philadelphia Magazine Apologizes for Lack of Diversity in Cover Photo on Schools

By Mark Walsh — October 02, 2015 2 min read
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So, just a few weeks ago I wrote about how education is a natural topic for city and suburban regional magazines.

That’s certainly the case for Philadelphia magazine, which assigned a cover story for its October issue called “A City Parent’s Guide to Schools.”

“The move to the ‘burbs used to be almost automatic for Philadelphians with means—families of all races picked up and left the city when their kids were old enough for school, and they did it without much handwringing,” says the story reported and written by Victor Fiorillo, Sandy Hingston, Joel Mathis, Holly Otterbein, and Ashley Primis. “But something’s changed. Philadelphia parents aren’t so eager to quit on a city that’s bigger, better and more vibrant than it’s been in decades.”

“There actually are tons of city schools—from standouts in the troubled public system, to charters, to steadfast parochial options, to elite private schools—where your child can get a great education,” the story adds.

The nod to racial diversity, however, failed to make it to the issue’s cover photo, which features seven smiling students—mostly of elementary age, four boys and three girls. All appear to be white.

This did not go over well in a city where enrollment in the Philadelphia public schools is 52 percent black, especially coming from a magazine that published a 2013 story on “Being White in Philly” that offended many readers as an attack on the black community.

The magazine responded quickly. While the print edition apparently was distributed to its normal outlets, the magazine either removed the cover image or never posted it to its website.

And Philly Mag Editor Tom McGrath took to the website to apologize for the cover.

“First, simply put: We blew it with the cover photograph (which we’ve chosen not to republish here),” McGrath wrote. “To include not even one African-American child on the cover fails to reflect not just the diversity that exists at the Greenfield School (where the photo was taken), but also that within the city of Philadelphia.

“I’ll offer no excuses here about process, etc.; at the end of the day, I chose this photo for the cover, and it was without question the wrong choice,” McGrath continued. “I apologize for my failings in judgment and for our insensitivity.”

The editor said that the magazine has been striving for more racial diversity on its staff after the “Being White in Philly” cover, and now would recommit to that goal. He noted that the upcoming December cover story is on “racial bias on the Main Line,” the city’s upscale, old-line western suburbs.

The package of education stories looks ambitious and informative for parents. It would be a shame if the poorly conceived cover photo on schools prompted the magazine to shy away from such a topic and instead just do one more cover on “Best Burgers.”

A version of this news article first appeared in the Education and the Media blog.