Papers, website to begin sharing some news coverage

Posted: February 16, 2012

Although they've shared ownership since the late 1950s and an office building, The Inquirer and the Philadelphia Daily News remained rivals in separate newsrooms, hustling for stories and photos.

With an impending relocation of the newspapers' offices to one newsroom, the editors of the two papers as well as Philly.com told their staffs Thursday that they soon will be sharing some news coverage.

The shift from all-out competition to coordinated cooperation is very much a work in progress, with many details to be worked out. But in an interview, Inquirer Editor Stan Wischnowski said that it's a necessary step, given that the real competition for readers' attention is outside the walls of the newspapers' longtime home on North Broad Street.

"That's a giant step for this organization, given the rich histories of both papers," Wischnowski said. "However, at a time when we're trying to maximize every one of our resources, and cover the community in a very strong print and digital way, all three editors have decided that this is best way to serve our readership."

In a series of meetings with the staffs Thursday, Wischnowski, Daily News Editor Larry Platt, and Philly.com Editor Wendy Warren outlined their concept of how certain newsroom functions would be combined.

Some writers, such as columnists, editorial writers, and investigative-reporting teams, would remain separate, enabling the papers to retain their distinctive voices, Wischnowski said. In addition, staffing would be adjusted to provide 24-hour, seven-day-a-week breaking-news coverage.

Under the plan, some elements of sports coverage, arts and other features stories, city and suburban reporting, and various editing functions would be coordinated and shared, Wischnowski said.

The same story might appear in both newspapers.

For example, the papers' sports departments intend to have one editor in charge of reporters from both staffs covering the Philadelphia Phillies, another for those covering the Philadelphia Eagles, and so on. Two reporters may still cover a Phillies game. However, one may be "digitally focused," Wischnowski said, posting news and video interviews to the Web, while the other may concentrate on a story for print.

The goal is to reduce duplication and encourage more enterprise and investigative reporting, which the editors believe differentiate the papers.

"Both newspapers have some of the best reporters in the industry," said Wischnowski, noting the 18 Pulitzer Prizes awarded to The Inquirer and the Daily News' three Pulitzers, as well as the fact that many of the winners of those Pulitzers are still with the company.

"We really want to make sure that readers are served by two different newspapers, but we aren't chasing the same kind of routine news," he said.

Planning for the change to one newsroom began after parent company Philadelphia Media Network Inc. (PMN) announced in November that it would move from 400 N. Broad St. to Eighth & Market Streets in July. Wischnowski called the plan a "major pivot" for the company.

It comes at a time of intense change and controversy enveloping Philadelphia's largest newspapers and website.

The newspapers' reputation has come under harsh scrutiny, most recently in a story in Thursday's New York Times, for actions, directed by their parent company's management, regarding stories about the possible sale of the media properties. Those actions include the killing of a story by an Inquirer reporter about developer Bart Blatstein's organizing a rival bid and the subsequent removal of a blog post about the same topic that had been written by a Daily News reporter.

"Decisions were made that the newsroom didn't agree with. We worked to change them," Wischnowski said. "I can assure you that regardless of who owns this newspaper, I will do everything in my power to ensure our journalistic principles will not be compromised in any way going forward."

PMN announced Wednesday that it intends to eliminate 37 positions from the three newsrooms, through either voluntary buyouts of Newspaper Guild members or involuntary layoffs of union members by March 31.

Dan Gross, president of Local 10 of the Guild, which represents newsroom, advertising and circulation employees, said he struggled to understand how eliminating redundancies to free up staff for new work, while eliminating 37 positions, will produce a better website and newspapers.

"I understand we are in a 24/7 media world, but I'm not sure how many staffers need to be assigned to work overnight, not a peak time for Philly.com, waiting for someone to die," said Gross, a Philadelphia Daily News columnist.

In another major change, the news organizations are in the early stages of switching to a multi-platform publishing system, supplied by Tampa, Fla.-based Saxotech. That conversion is expected to be complete by the end of April.

On Thursday, the three editors made their presentation several times before rooms filled with journalists some of whose questions reflected frustration, anxiety and anger at the events of the last two weeks.

Thursday night, journalists at the newspapers began circulating a statement, asking their colleagues to sign on in support of news "gathered and printed without fear or favor" and demanding that new PMN owners "guarantee that the integrity of our reporting will never be sacrificed to serve their private or political interests."


Contact staff writer Mike Armstrong at 215-854-2980 or marmstrong@phillynews.com, or @PhillyInc on Twitter.

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