Okay, I’ve read all of the stories and blogs tsk-tsk-ing the conflict, and tutt-tutt-ing the horrible situation that has resulted in two owners in gridlock and the poor readers suffering over The Philadelphia Inquirer court battles.
Are you kidding me?
If this had happened in Egypt, we’d be tweeting about the journalistic spring.
Are journalists so hard-headed and battered that they don’t see the one journalistic insurrection when it strikes them in the face? Where, among dozens if not hundreds of failing or failed or ethically depleted newspapers, one editor, a newsroom and a couple of millionaires actually fought back to support good ethical standards?
The stock story focused on court room battles, intriguing companions, 26-year-old relatives running websites and the politically connected.
I’d submit it is more like this:
The traditional newspaper management that got newspapers into the mess they are in now proposed more of the same. Essentially, the play was all too well known to those of us in the business. Cut the payroll by firing senior editors, hire cheap young reporters to crank out copy in New Jersey, and probably throw out chum and link bait from Philly.com to plump up the online numbers. Jettison local columnists and op ed articles, too.
At the same time, run two separate web portals — one paid; one free. Put the young daughter of a politically connected owner in charge of the free one and begin running politically favorable coverage on the free portal.
Then, in classic old publisher style, if your plan isn’t working, fire the editor. Blame the content, not a business plan that is so flawed that it has has the arc and prospects of an ingrown toenail.
The problem here is that the editor they sought to fire is Bill Marimow, who may be the toughest, fairest news person alive today. He fought it, as did those in the newsroom who support the idea of good journalism. Remarkably, so did some of the millionaire owners who filed suit against the pols.
There is a wonderment among many as to why Bill Marimow did this. It is probably short term. His contract and protection runs through April. There’s no money in it for him. Or at least no incremental advantage. He would be paid regardless.
But he chose to fight. And while I’ve not talked to Bill about this, I am pretty sure why he fought. It’s not about old style journalism or new style journalism. It’s about drawing a line in the sand for just practicing journalism — for as best as we can in an imperfect world to say that you can by god take a shot at reporting what is happening the world in a manner that allows your readers to make decisions based on it with affect.
It is about the Fourth Estate.
Fire the five editors and Marimow, others have said, and who cares if the news continues to be gathered with integrity. And that’s the point. The integrity part. Because it is lost. Hire a bunch of bloggers in New Jersey and have them turn out lists of Five New Jersey Twerking Hot Spots and you may have a viable web site. You do not have a newspaper. You do not have a Fourth Estate.
No newspaper today survives without the integrity of a good news operation, of good people performing a public service in trust with its readers. Lose that pro bono notion, and you lose the business.
That is what is at stake at The Philadelphia Inquirer. That is what Marimow is fighting for. That is what most of the writers and bloggers covering this are missing.
Over the past decade of newspaper despair and disaster, many fine and able editors resigned or were fired as the business folks “thinned the soup,” cut pages, and raised prices. All well and good. But how many editors have taken this sort of action? How many have sued to remain as editor of a besieged and beleaguered newspaper?
Damned few by my count.
It’s time for journalists to stop wringing their hands about The Philadelphia Inquirer and call it for what it is: the one time in modern history where an editor stood up for what was right. And it appears, won.
Let’s hope that the readers of The Philadelphia Inquirer rally behind the rag. Let’s pray this is not a beau geste, but the start of a civic reconnection with one of the most important elements of community and democracy. Let’s hear it for Bill and the other brave souls of The Inquirer.