The National Association of Black Journalists (NABJ) is disappointed with the response by the Chicago Tribune editorial board to the public outcry over a column by editorial board member Kristen McQueary, who called for a Hurricane Katrina-like storm as a starting point for fixing Chicago’s ills.
McQueary wrote on Aug. 13 that she was “praying for a storm” in reference to Hurricane Katrina. She then wrote a second column on Aug. 14 after negative comments online and on social media circulated, saying readers simply missed the point of the first op-ed.
The Hurricane Katrina analogy “lacks news judgment,” said Sarah Glover, NABJ’s 21st president. “Just because you can doesn’t mean you should.”
More than 1,800 people died after the 2005 Category 5 hurricane made landfall, its impact devastating on the African-American community in New Orleans. More than a million Louisiana residents were displaced, with about a third not returning, according to the American Community Survey.
In an Aug. 14 letter to the editorial board, the NABJ-Chicago Chapter requested a public apology and a two-week suspension for McQueary. That letter went unanswered by the editorial board.
“Kristen McQueary’s column credits the resilience and ingenuity of the people of New Orleans and pleads for dramatic change in Chicago, which has not faced up to its financial crisis. That is her point. Her use of Hurricane Katrina as metaphor has unfortunately been misconstrued,” editorial page editor Bruce Dold wrote on Aug. 14 in response to the backlash.
Glover followed up with an Aug. 18 email admonishing the column.
“Just because you have an opinion or can conjure up a seismic analogy to prove your point doesn’t mean it’s appropriate for publication by an esteemed newspaper such as the Chicago Tribune,” Glover wrote.
Glover and NABJ-Chicago Chapter President Kathy Chaney met with McQueary and editorial board members at the Tribune for an off-the-record meeting about the column on Aug. 20.
“While the First Amendment protects the freedom of speech, there’s also an absolute need to exercise news judgment. Nearly 2,000 human beings died during the Hurricane Katrina disaster. I can’t imagine a similar metaphor evoking 9/11 would ever be used in the way that Hurricane Katrina was,” Glover wrote to the editorial board.
The NABJ-Chicago Chapter requested another meeting on-the-record to include Dold, who was on vacation at the time of the Aug. 20 meeting.
An advocacy group established in 1975 in Washington, D.C., NABJ is the largest organization for journalists of color in the nation, and provides career development as well as educational and other support to its members worldwide.