When new ownership threatened last month to “liquidate” the Philadelphia Inquirer, Daily News and philly.com unless all unions agreed to immediate concessions—including the Newspaper Guild, whose contract ran until October 2013—John-Hall had had enough. Her farewell column ran Friday.
“It was ‘liquidate, liquidate, liquidate,’” she says. “There’s something very demeaning about that word. It gave me chills. When you talk about ‘liquidation,’ you’re talking about furniture, not people. We are the assets at the paper.”
Which begs the question: Why would an ownership group that includes a Jewish person use “liquidate” in any public statement? Who does their PR? Ahmadinejad?
John-Hall, 56, a columnist for seven of her 19 years at the Inky, was by far its most visible black presence. (Faint praise, given how few African Americans occupy the newsroom.) Her focus on blacks and other minorities will be difficult to replace with such a decimated staff.
With John-Hall’s departure, the corps of Metro columnists has shrunk from five to two in less than a month, if you include Daniel Rubin’s being “on assignment” with other duties. Karen Heller and New Jersey-based Kevin Riordan are the lone survivors.
“I felt an obligation to stay and fight the good fight, for the people whose stories might never be heard,” John-Hall says. “I hope the powers-that-be understand the value of what I brought. If the current reporters aren’t going to tell stories that reflect the racial diversity in this city, they need to hire some people who will.”
On that point, John-Hall says she’s certain that management will do the right thing. (See Chance, Fat.)
“I’m confident they will see that excellence depends on diversity,” she says. “Otherwise, we’re not covering the region the way it’s supposed to be covered. They know the importance of diversity, and they know they’ve fallen short in that regard, in both coverage and staff.”
That includes women, who under editor Bill Marimow have all but disappeared from the Inky masthead. John-Hall says female staffers are angry about that power void, but it’s not their top priority. Survival is.
“The constant turbulence just wears you down,” she says. “Women in the newsroom are trying to avoid getting laid off, like everybody else. Those priorities get short shrift when you’re trying to survive. The paper is in survival mode. We have one black reporter on the city desk. It’s a travesty.”
As for the Inky’s survival, John-Hall predicts it will continue, but not in print form. “I love my readers, but most of them are in their 70s,” she explains.
John-Hall, a New Jersey resident, spent yesterday filling out unemployment forms. She’s “wide open” about her next gig, as long as it’s “meaningful, stable” work. She may write a memoir about growing up in Berkeley, get a Master’s degree and teach, even work for a political candidate.
Meanwhile, she has the luxury of enjoying her unemployment, at least for a while. Her husband of almost 30 years works full time, and their three kids are grown.
“My career trajectory has sort of peaked at this point,” John-Hall says. “It’s not my priority anymore. There’s something to be said for getting out when you’re at the top of your game.
“I’m betting that people will know who I am and what I can do, and will offer me something meaningful.”
Full disclosure: I worked for the Inquirer for 30 years, until 2009.