Stephen Buel, the publisher of the East Bay Express apologized Friday in the weekly for using the N-word in a meeting with staff members and for taking down stories written by a culture and music reporter.
His apology came with a lot of pledges for change. It didn’t look like he was going to resign. Then today, he did just that, resigned.
WHAT LEAD TO THE RESIGNATION
Buel has been the co-owner of the East Bay Express since 2007. He was also the editor of the weekly for ten years.
In May, reporter Azucena Rasilla was covering the Bottlerock Napa Valley Music Festival . In a phone conversation this afternoon, Rasilla told me that Buel took down her story about rappers using the N-word during their performances and white people in the audience singing along also using the N-word. Rasilla said she mentioned in her story that she thought it was wrong that white audience members used the N-word when they repeated the lyrics.
In a meeting after Buel took down Rasilla’s story, she said she was shocked when he used the N-word in front of the staff members. Friday, Rasilla had enough. She quit her job. Here is what she posted on Facebook:
Friday, Buel published “An Apology and a Pledge.” He admitted he used the N-word and that he took down stories, because he didn’t agree with them. In his “apology” he said he had plans to make major changes. There was no hint he planned to quit or remove himself as publisher.
Here is part of his apology he wrote in the East Bay Express:
The past month has been a traumatic one at the East Bay Express. As the paper’s publisher and onetime editor, I consider furthering our journalistic mission to be my life’s work. Yet as the person most responsible for our current troubles, I now feel a need to directly address our readers.
One night about a month ago, I read some week-old online coverage that did not live up to my editorial standards. So, I took the stories down the next morning and promptly explained my concerns to the author and editors.
One story described white people singing along to live hip-hop songs that contained the N-word. This is a worthy topic for coverage, and I said as much. But while referring to hateful words subsequently reclaimed by the communities they once oppressed, I said a couple of those words aloud. I should not have done so and am extremely sorry that my remark caused others pain.
I also should not have unilaterally taken down the articles. Instead, I should have respected our editorial structure and taken my feedback directly to our editorial management so that the editors and author might have addressed my concerns without permanently removing the pieces from our website. I am sorry for the way I disrespected the writer and editors involved in that coverage. (continue)
Comments left in the comment section, had people demanding Buel’s resignation.
THE PUBLISHER MADE PROMISES WE HAVE HEARD BEFORE
Stephen Buel disrespected his staff, used a racial slur and apologized.
His apology appeared to be a way to convince himself and his readers that he had “seen the light.” He made all the same promises we have heard over and over by those in managerial positions who have used racial slurs, apologized, and promised never to do it again.
Promise to increase diversity. Check!
Promise to have newspaper reflect the community. Check!
Promise to create a code of conduct for staff. Check!
Promises to attend “implicit bias training.” Check!
Promise better communication as publisher with editorial staff. Check!
GLAD BUEL SAW THE LIGHT AND RESIGNED
Stephen Buel is a veteran journalist who should knows better. Saturday, something convinced him to resign from the newspaper he owns. He published his resignation. Here it is:
Perhaps now more than ever before, the East Bay needs healthy independent journalism. Because my presence at Telegraph Media has become a threat to that mission — and to the careers of the hard-working people who produce the East Bay Express, Oakland Magazine, Alameda Magazine, The East Bay Monthly, and Bay Woof — I am stepping down as publisher of those titles.
Publications such as these depend upon the support of many people and institutions. I urge the advertisers, readers, journalists and community members who have long supported our publications to stand by them now — and not let my indiscretions threaten their survival.
During my 37 years as a journalist, I have worked to advance equality, seek truth, and fight injustice. The thousands of stories I have written or edited express my values far better than any self-righteous summation possibly could today. The cruel caricature I see of myself on social media does not reflect who I am, but I have sadly come to the conclusion that I cannot defend myself without endangering the journalism that is my legacy.
Following a brief transition period, longtime East Bay journalist Robert Gammon will replace me as our company’s publisher.
Buel is old enough to understand that you NEVER use the N-word. It’s an ugly word. He knew his apology was not good enough and he would sink his own ship if he did not remove himself.
Here is hoping that the changes and improvements that Buel had promised will still happen. There should be better diversity, a code of conduct, and the newspaper staff should reflect the community.
Let’s be honest, Robert Gammon will still work for Buel because he will still own the paper. Gammon has to decide now if he will be Buel’s puppet or a true leader. We must keep an eye on whether Buel will do things behind scenes. Believe me, I will be watching.
The new publisher has a big job ahead of him. He needs to show the staff that they are respected and their journalists are trusted for their work. More than anything, the East Bay Express needs to show the community that it cares about its staff and the people who read it.
Trust, honesty, and ethics do matter.
Earlier today I contacted Buel to get his side of the story. I am still waiting for a response.
ON A PERSONAL NOTE
It takes a brave journalist to create change in the news business. I am very proud of Azucena Rasilla. When her stories were taken down a few months ago, she could have let it go. When Buel used that racial slur, she could have kept quiet. She did not. She spoke up and realized that it was the right thing to do. We should all learn from her courage to create change.
I talked to Rasilla tonight for her reaction to Buel’s resignation. She said, “It’s a step in the right direction, but the ultimate goal should be for Steve to sell. The Express will not truly change until it changes ownership.”