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Magazine editor apologizes for education cover shot called racially insensitive

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Philadelphia has a majority-minority school district: 52 percent of its students are black, 19 percent are Hispanic and 14 percent are white.

That’s why so many people found it jarring when Philadelphia magazine’s October education issue featured a photograph of what appeared to them to be a group of white children.

(In fact, one of the children is Latino and another South Asian, according to the magazine’s editors.)

The text on the cover didn’t help: “How to get your kid a great education … without moving to the ‘burbs,” it reads.

Coupled with the photo, plenty of people saw the cover package as a not-so-hard-to-break code that speaks to the segregation of both housing and schools: good schools are white schools, and white schools are in white neighborhoods.

The children in the Philly magazine cover shot are from Greenfield, a well-regarded K-8 school in Philadelphia’s Center City. Though its white population is larger than average for Philadelphia — about 40 percent of its students are white — the school is still majority-minority.

Tom McGrath, the editor of Philadelphia magazine, took to Facebook to apologize for the lack of diversity in the photograph. “We should have done better,” he wrote.

On the magazine’s Web site, McGrath posted the following note to readers:

Tom McGrath, Philly Mag editor, here. We just posted the online version of this month’s magazine cover story on how to choose a school for your child. Given the controversy the cover image has generated in the last 24 hours, I wanted to make a few comments.
First, simply put: We blew it with the cover photograph (which we’ve chosen not to republish here). 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. I apologize for my failings in judgment and for our insensitivity.
Second, it’s impossible to look at this cover without also acknowledging the magazine’s controversial history when it comes to race – as well as the culture within the magazine’s walls that leads to blown decisions like this one. I acknowledged following the publication of “Being White in Philly” two and a half years ago that we needed to do a better job of diversifying our staff and the voices who write for us. We made some progress, but obviously not nearly enough. So, after conversations with David Lipson, chairman of our parent company, Metro Corp, we’re recommitting ourselves to that goal, and pledging this time to make the process as transparent as possible. The details of that still need to be worked out, but we believe transparency is crucial, the only real way forward.
The magazine has always prided itself on taking on controversial subjects in Philadelphia. (Ironically, our upcoming December cover story focuses on racial bias on the Main Line.) But the October cover photo wasn’t some brave journalistic stand. It was a stupid, insensitive decision that I deeply regret.

Correction: This story originally reported that the cover photo pictured a group of white children. It has been updated to note that while many readers believed it was an all-white group, two of the children identify as minorities.

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