East Bay Express Publisher Steps Down, Says He'll Sell Company

Stephen Buel stepped down Saturday as publisher of East Bay Express. (Kathleen Richards)

Updated July 16 at 1:30 p.m.

Stephen Buel, who stepped down Saturday as the publisher of the East Bay Express, said he and his wife plan to sell the alternative weekly and the rest of their publishing company, according to an email Buel sent to KQED Monday.

"I made a couple mistakes in the past month, and another one a decade ago, but the universe doesn't seem to believe in forgiveness at the moment," Buel wrote. "So I stepped down because that seemed like the best way to safeguard our company's journalism and jobs."

Buel resigned Saturday as the publisher, a day after publishing an editorial where he admitted to using a racial slur for African-Americans and other "hateful words" during a meeting with staff members last month.

"I have no idea what I will do in the future, or where I will do it," he wrote. "After working seven days a week this past year to save the East Bay Express from extinction, I'm feeling like it's time to focus on quality-of-life issues."

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Buel wrote, "That said, there aren't many people brave enough to invest in print journalism these days, and we have invested our life savings in the business and don't wish to lose that."

Original Post, Saturday, July 14

Stephen Buel stepped down Saturday as the publisher of the alternative weekly East Bay Express, a day after publishing an editorial where he admitted to using a racial slur for African-Americans and other "hateful words" during a meeting with staff members last month.

"I have sadly come to the conclusion that I cannot defend myself without endangering the journalism that is my legacy," Buel wrote in a resignation announcement posted on East Bay Express' website on Saturday.

Buel told KQED via text message, "My head is spinning."

Last month, Buel unilaterally took down stories written by Azucena Rasilla posted to the publication's website that he said, in an editorial in the Express on July 13, "did not live up to my editorial standards." Others at a meeting with three staffers on June 1 say that he said the stories were "racist to white people."

One of the stories dealt with white people singing along to hip-hop songs that used a racial slur, which Buel repeated during the June 1 meeting. After the incident, Buel held a series of meetings intended to address the controversy, but those actions weren't enough for many staff members, who were frustrated that Buel insisted that he would continue to make editorial decisions as the self-proclaimed "editorial director."

Rasilla told KQED she resigned the night of the June 1 meeting. She said Buel then offered her job to Beatrice Kilat, who was working as a calendar editor at the time. Rasilla said Kilat turned down the offer and resigned as well.

In the hours after Buel posted his apology on Friday, readers and former colleagues took to social media to call on him to resign and to detail additional complaints against Buel and his leadership.

Editor-in-chief Kathleen Richards recently gave her two-week notice after issuing Buel an ultimatum to stay out of the editorial decision-making process, something he refused to do.

"We lost two staff writers, both of whom are women of color, as well as many freelance writers as a result of this," Richards said of Buel's recent actions. "My concern is what are the stories we are losing as a result of his actions and what are the consequences, not just for these writers, but for the community."

According to two other current employees, who asked not to be named for fear of retaliation, Buel saw himself as the centrist corrective to what he considered "racially charged" coverage that skewed too far left.

Richards said Buel stepping down as publisher is "an outcome no one anticipated," and said she may now consider staying at the publication.

"It's a step in the right direction," Richards said.

But Rasilla isn't as optimistic, citing Buel's continued role as co-owner of the paper and his replacement as publisher, longtime East Bay journalist and Buel's close friend, Robert Gammon.

"Don’t be fooled by him stepping down. He’s still the owner, Bob becoming publisher is no better," Rasilla posted on Twitter on Saturday night. "Where’s the apology to those of us who resigned because of his censorship and hostile work environment?"

Buel has been a co-owner of the publication since 2007, and he will not be giving up his ownership stake at this time. He also served as the publication's editor from 2001-2010.

In a comment posted on Buel's apology, former East Bay Express publisher Jody Colley said Buel "inappropriately kissed me" at a work event in 2009. He was formally disciplined for the incident, according to an internal memo obtained by KQED. The memo also mentioned another instance where Buel "made a verbal suggestion regarding a sexual liaison to Jody and another female attendee."

"I've been on the verge of saying something for many years," Colley said. "When I had to turn over my staff to his care and tell them, 'You're in good hands. The paper is going to be stronger than ever,' even though I didn't believe it, that was really hard."

Colley said she came forward in solidarity with employees who "risked everything" by taking a principled stand and leaving jobs they loved, something she wished she would have done.

"I wanted to support them in their moment," Colley said.

This story has been updated to include additional information from Azucena Rasilla.

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