Stephen Buel, publisher and co-owner of Oakland-based alternative weekly East Bay Express, announced that he would step down from his post and eventually sell the paper after allegedly using a racial slur during a recent staff meeting.
The slur allegedly occurred during a June editorial meeting, which was held in response to Buel’s decision to take down several online articles written the month prior, stories he felt “did not live up to my editorial standards,” according to a post Buel published on the East Bay Express site on July 13.
In the course of that meeting, Buel allegedly referenced one of the since-removed articles, which was written by then-East Bay Express associate editor Azucena Rasilla. Reporting on the BottleRock Napa Valley music festival, Rasilla’s article described the practice of white concertgoers singing along to live hip-hop songs making use of the “N-word.”
Referring to the practice described in the article, Buel allegedly repeated the slur in front of staff.
“I should not have done so and am extremely sorry that my remark caused others pain,” Buel wrote in his July 13 post.
“As a journalist long devoted to holding other people accountable for their failings, I now must hold myself accountable for mine,” Buel continued.
Buel also lamented his decision to unilaterally remove the articles without consulting his colleagues.
“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," Buel wrote. “I am sorry for the way I disrespected the writer and editors involved in that coverage.”
Rasilla in a July 16 blog post wrote that Buel felt her coverage was “racist against white people.”
Rasilla also quoted Buel’s words during the meeting as follows: “You know, if a rapper puts it in his lyrics, it’s free game for anyone to say [the N-word].”
Rasilla, who had written for the East Bay Express since early 2017, resigned in protest of Buel’s decision to take down her articles. East Bay Express editor-in-chief Kathleen Richards also initially said she would resign in light of Buel’s actions. However, Richards rescinded that decision a day later, after Buel published a follow-up post on July 14, where he reported that he would resign as publisher, and his post would be succeeded by colleague and longtime journalist Robert Gammon “following a brief transition period.”
“The cruel caricature I see of myself on social media does not reflect who I am,” Buel wrote in his July 14 resignation notice, “but I have sadly come to the conclusion that I cannot defend myself without endangering the journalism that is my legacy.”
Magazine-media news site Folio reported that Buel now plans to sell East Bay Express parent company Telegraph Media, which also owns Oakland Magazine, Alameda Magazine, The East Bay Monthly and dog-focused publication Bay Woof. Folio reported that Buel hopes to sell all five publications together.
A longtime journalist, Buel was an East Bay Express editor when he purchased the 40-year-old paper in 2007 along with a group of eight investors from then-owners Village Voice Media. Buel left his chief editor post in 2010 but returned in the publisher’s chair when he and wife Judith M. Gallman acquired a majority stake in 2017.
The paper was previously owned by AZ-based newspaper company New Times Media, which merged with The Village Voice’s parent company in 2006 to form Village Voice Media.
The news comes days after Papa John’s founder John Schnatter resigned from the pizza company’s board of directors after admitting to his use of the “N-word” during a May media training call with a marketing firm.