As promised, we received a redesign of the Philadelphia Inquirer today—one that’s reportedly set the new ownership group at war with itself and with the paper’s journalists. Truth is, though, it’s not that bad. But it’s not perfect, either. Here’s the breakdown:
• GOOD: A renewed emphasis on local. Only one story on the front page is a national wire story. Bill Marimow, the editor, promises that Pages 2 and 3 of the front section will highlight “news of special importance to the region.” That sounds like local news, and lots of it, up front. Good.
• BAD: There’s still too much of an attempt to be a national “paper of record.” This is is still an Inky that assumes people are reading it to find out what’s going on in Washington and Syria. They aren’t. That’s what the Internet is for. In explaining the redesign, Marimow promises there will be a “Nation & World” page that highlights the day’s top stories. Page 4 is about a deadly attack in a Guatemalan town, and I’m sorry, but that’s not why I read the Inquirer. Of 10 news pages in the front section, five are devoted mostly to national and wire copy.
If I were editor of the Inquirer, I’d save money by getting rid of the wire services entirely and bring all the local and suburban news to the front section. The Inquirer no longer spans the globe with its resources. It’s time to move on.
• GOOD: More color. Even the business page, which has spent much of its recent life in black-and-white with a splash of sickly green, is now fully in color. That’s great. USA Today only beat you there by 30 years, but better late than never.
• BAD: The op-ed page. Yes, it’s been sliced down to one page, but that’s not the problem. The problem is that a huge chunk of the remaining space is given to a warmed-over Charles Krauthammer column that most everybody in the country read on Friday, when it was in the Washington Post. I have enormous respect for the hardworking journalists of the Inquirer, but that doesn’t say “essential community reading” to me. It’s hard to root for a two-page section—as editors are reportedly asking people to do—when they underutilize the page they have. This is an ongoing problem: On Sunday, the two-page op-ed section featured a George Will column from the Post, and a reprint from the Los Angeles Times.
• GOOD: More high school sports coverage is promised. I mean, honestly, a newspaper can’t go wrong by putting as many kids’ names in print as possible, can it? Let’s Friday Night Lights the crap out of the paper!
Where the Inquirer continues to go wrong—and, clearly, it’s trying to go right!—is that it still tries to be all things to all people. It could pull that off 20 years ago, but no more. In the Internet, post-Knight Ridder era, it is of necessity more of a local paper than it has been for decades. Stop trying to give us the world through wire copy and WaPo op-eds, Inky. Keep trying to give us more Philly and its suburbs. That’s your best bet at surviving and thriving.