Digital journalism in Philly.
I spent two great years working for Bill Marimow at the Philadelphia Inquirer, so – as you’d imagine – it was tough for me to see the news that he’s no longer the editor of that great paper. It’s entirely the prerogative of the new owners to install the editor of their choice, as Bill rightly noted.
When I was hired, Bill was the editor of The Inquirer, Michael Days was the editor of the Philadephia Daily News, and Mark Potts was just beginning his tenure as interim editor of Philly.com – the shared website for both newspapers. In a situation relatively unique to Philly, Bill never oversaw Philly.com, which remains the shared Web site of both newspapers. Its staff did not report to him, and he could not influence things like story play, headlines, etc.
Situations like this are tough. They’re made more tough when – over objections from many inside the building, including Bill, Mark and yours truly – the staff of Philly.com relocated to an office space half a mile away. (The new regime is rightly moving Philly.com back into the Inquirer and Daily News building.)
A second note – we’re talking about digital journalism in a place that published using incredibly outdated equipment, which quickly had to adopt to a standalone site after McClatchy bought, then disassembled, Knight Ridder. When then-candidate Barack Obama visited the Inquirer newsroom before the 2008 election, he turned, surveyed the bulky monitors cluttering desks, and said “Geez, where do you guys keep the Commodore 64s?”
But it’s lazy shorthand to say Bill was “not digital enough.” Bill hired me to help The Inquirer be more digital, and I’m proud of my time there. For that time, Bill’s record for digital journalism is also my record of digital journalism, and I’m very proud of what we accomplished.
An example: For the primary election between Obama and Hillary Clinton, we turned to a blog, and – in this case – reporters and editors for The Inquirer and the Daily News contributed election items from around the city and around the state. (You can read more about that effort here.) We would post a news item from a location on the city, and minutes later watch CNN or MSNBC reporting live from the scene of our blog post. That was heady stuff, and the audience responded, with tens of thousands of views to the blog during its peak hours.
Months later we provided the same type of coverage when the Phillies won the World Series (and caused minor mayhem in the city), and when Obama won the general election. Both caused spontaneous parades past the newspaper’s headquarters on North Broad Street. Users found more up-to-date coverage of those events on our website than any other source provided.
Another example: The liveblog of the corruption trial of a former State Senator, Vincent J. Fumo. Liveblogging the trial was Bill’s idea, and for months, a reporter functioned almost stenographically, posting action from the courtroom as it happened. When the verdict came in, that liveblog provided the only real-time way for newshounds to follow guilty count after guilty count. Thanks to his iPhone, intrepid reporter Bob Moran was able to keep updating users through Twitter through the inevitable reception problems the day the verdict came down.
It was such an essential resource that a local TV station ripped and read from the liveblog on the air:
We also launched several groundbreaking interactive projects: A stunning site showing off the revamped Please Touch Museum, and projects that showcased investigations, as well. The projects drew audience, and garnered awards. One is a finalist for an Online Journalism Award this year.
One of the last things I did before leaving was launch a Web site aimed at college students, called Student Union 34. Now defunct, the site was updated by students at St. Joseph’s, Temple, Penn and Penn State, and was sponsored at launch by Comcast. The New York Times liked the idea enough to blog about it.
There are many more examples – it was a busy two years! – but I’m proud of the digital journalism we accomplished.
We did not do it in a vacuum. Many reporters, editors, photographers, graphic artists, Web producers, developers, IT staff and many more worked very hard on these and many, many other efforts – efforts done on a shoestring budget, for a broke and then bankrupt business.
It’s not the whole truth to say Bill Marimow wasn’t digital enough. In Philadelphia, he never got that chance.