Feature: Greg Osberg: Savior?

The genial but bold-thinking new CEO of the Inquirer and Daily News represents the papers’ last best hope to survive in the age of digital news. At stake is nothing less than how Philadelphia knows what it knows

 

Ever since, Eric has required 24/7 attention. No one has found a way to stop his seizures, and he can’t communicate at all. But Osberg describes his heartbreak over his son as offering a corresponding gift. “I look around sometimes and see people getting upset over small things, and I just don’t,” he says. “Eric gave me a sense of perspective about what’s important. It takes a lot to get me worked up. And he also taught me that everyone has their challenges. Others’ might not be as dramatic, but they have their challenges, too.”

“I DIDN’T JUST WORK FOR BILL MARIMOW,” says Inquirer columnist Daniel Rubin. “I revolved around him. He taught me how to work in this business and thrive. I — we all — orbited around him.”

Marimow remains a legend in both Philadelphia and American civic journalism, a two-time Pulitzer Prize winner as an Inquirer reporter who quickly galvanized the paper’s investigative outfit during his short stint as editor. But Osberg saw the need for a change, and Marimow agreed to be demoted back to investigative reporter.

That action, carried out just as Osberg officially started his job, took balls. But any media company wishing to reinvent itself for the Internet age needs an editor excited about utilizing technology developed after the printing press. And despite his inestimable talent for getting a story, Marimow isn’t that guy. “I was in a meeting once when Bill Marimow made the statement that, ‘The Internet has done nothing to aid the practice of journalism,’” says one staffer who wishes to remain anonymous. “He had no understanding of the Internet or desire to learn.”

Marimow declined to be interviewed for this story, and Osberg would say only that he preferred new editor Stan Wischnowski’s “more collaborative” style. But in a sense, he doesn’t really need to say much more. As a deputy managing editor at the Inquirer, Wischnowski supervised the entire night operation, directed the afternoon editors’ meeting, and managed front-page story selections — traditionally, the tasks of a supporting cast member. But in the end, Wischnowski was likely chosen to be the lead actor on account of his reputed tech savvy and a cooperative outlook.

The three editorial bosses at the DN, the Inquirer and Philly.com are now in contact multiple times per day, figuring out how to keep the website stocked with content and how to differentiate their print coverage. For those who wondered what sense existed in having three operations that share the same bottom line work against or apart from one another, this shift is long overdue. And the cultural change is massive.

Old hands at the Inquirer have long acted as if the solution to all their financial problems is to simply obliterate the Daily News, mob-style, or more charitably fold it into the Inquirer itself. But Osberg is, if anything, about to fold the Inquirer, the Daily News and Philly.com into a larger identity. This particular change will be most readily symbolized by the radical alteration of the Philadelphia Inquirer flag — a massive banner unfurled at one end of the newsroom, displaying the newspaper’s name in big letters. Osberg plans to add another banner that proclaims, in letters just as big: PHILADELPHIA MEDIA NETWORK.

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