Press Lord 2.0

Can a self-made adman with big ideas and a Walter Annenberg fascination save the Inquirer and Daily News? Maybe. But when Brian Tierney’s finished, the newspaper business may never be the same

Marimow rolled up his sleeves; journalists finally had their leader. Tierney, though, never believed the Inky’s weakness was a lack of newsroom leadership. It was a lack of the right incentives. Tierney believed the Inky hadn’t incentivized its reporters to take advantage of the New World.

In the New World, where so many more outlets are selling content than ever before, on more electronic devices than ever before, the most precious commodity is mere exposure. Eyeballs. Insofar as journalists have value, it’s because they represent brands that can be leveraged across multiple platforms: TV, the Internet, books, screenplays.

Tierney began to envision his ideal journalist. She was entrepreneurial, of course. She worked cheap, at first. (“It’s really expensive to have all these Columbia Journalism folks running around,” Tierney said in October, just prior to leaving for New York to give a speech at — yep — the Columbia School of Journalism.) She did it for love, not money. She was comfortable on television. She was aggressive, ambitious. She knew what a blog was. She was willing to shoot digital videos for Philly.com. She exuded “bold colors” that “pop.” Not that she was all flash and no substance. In fact, she was more than likely to do excellent work respected by her peers — she was an investigative whiz, maybe, or a sharp columnist who wrote with voice and flair. But the lack of those qualities wouldn’t be a deal-killer.

Look at Stephen A. Smith. Smith is the consummate New World journo-brand. He’s an Inquirer sports columnist, but only nominally. These days, he spends most of his time dispensing one-liners on ESPN. Other Inky reporters despise Smith, even if some would no doubt trade their self-respect for his money; they think he does shitty work. When I suggested this to Bill Marimow, Marimow just said, “I haven’t met Stephen A. Smith. I don’t want to be quoted on Stephen A. Smith.” But Tierney loves Stephen A. Smith. “I think it’s great Stephen A. Smith does [TV],” Tierney told me. “And in the new environment, I’d like to help the next Stephen A. Smith get that kind of a gig.”

Tierney’s idea is only radical for Philadelphia. The broader industry has already embraced the journalist-as-brand concept — look at how books are promoted, or how Time magazine is laying off its non-bylined staffers while hiring more columnists, or how the leaders of the new online/print venture The Politico were able to poach top, name-brand journalists by promising to make them new-media stars. Tierney only wants to speed up the process. He wants to dynamite the levees, let the market rush in. Journos will sink or swim. Looking forward, Tierney wants his company to be a destination for young talent, but his recruiting pitch is thoroughly New World: Don’t come to Philly because we do amazing journalism like the New York Times; come because we’ll help you sell a book proposal, start a weblog, get on TV. Tierney wants a journalist who understands that PMH won’t “hold me back,” in his own words. Citizen Kane as Personal Life Coach.

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