Is “Tainted Justice” Now Tainted?

It would appear that an Inquirer story killed last month by publisher Gerry Lenfest is back from the dead.

The Inquirer today has a lengthy front-page story examining why Thomas Tolstoy, a Philadelphia Police officer accused of sexually assaulting women in the Daily News’ Pulitzer-winning “Tainted Justice” series in 2009, is still on the force.

The Inky’s answer? A main witness gave federal officials inconsistent accounts of her encounter with Tolstoy. And her already shaky credibility was hurt when she told federal officials that Daily News reporters Wendy Ruderman and Barbara Laker had helped with bills and bought her gifts.

If true, investigators said, Ruderman and Laker could be seen as “enticing” the victim’s story, harming her credibility in court. And journalistic ethics generally prohibit giving gifts to sources. Ruderman said she did buy a bag of groceries for the woman, but that was the extent of the help.

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Are Good Phillies Teams Good for Newspapers?

Our pal Randy LoBasso has an interesting cover story this week at Philadelphia Weekly, suggesting that when the Philadelphia Phillies play poorly — as they are this season — there are economic ramifications:

For many of Citizens Bank Park’s workers, it’s simple trickle-down economics: pay rises and falls with the team’s fortune. These workers, who vend beer section-by-section, aisle-by-aisle, are paid based on tips and commission. Poor teams mean fewer fans. Fewer fans means less product moved. Less product means less pay—and as the team gets worse, for lots of these workers, their wallets get emptier.

Makes sense. And you know who else seems to suffer when the Phillies play poorly? The city’s newspapers.
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Stu Bykofsky’s Baggage

Byko's greatest hits, according to a recent Storify presentation about him.

Byko’s greatest hits, according to a recent Storify presentation about him.

I don’t think Stu Bykofsky is a bigot.

Let me rephrase: I don’t know if Stu Bykofsky is a bigot, because answering that question definitively requires knowing Stu’s heart — and nobody knows Stu’s heart (or, really, if he has one) except Stu.

Helen Gym did a thorough takedown last week of the longtime Daily News columnist’s rhetorical proclivities, but I suspect Bykofsky isn’t a bigot as the term is normally understood. Hating other groups of people requires caring, on some level, that they exist. I’m not so sure that’s the case with Stu.

He’s a provocateur. A troll, in the modern parlance. A naughty child in the body of a cranky old man. A Philly.com commenter given pro status. Other people don’t seem to be “other people” in Stu’s columns so much as they are targets for his gleeful, unending bomb-throwing. (Full disclosure: He’s aimed those bombs at me on at least one occasion.)

The question, then, is this: Is he a worthy newspaper columnist?

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How the Daily News Cover Changed Overnight — Then Changed Again

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It may be that this morning’s news is the first you’re hearing of the events in Ferguson, Mo. — how a young unarmed black man was shot by police, how residents protested, and how a militarized police force evidently overreacted — and if it is, well, prepare to get angry.

What’s interesting, from a Philly perspective, is how those events forced changes to the cover of today’s Philadelphia Daily News. Twice. And how that happened says a lot about how media works in 2014.

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The Long Fall of Philly Newspapers

Shutterstock.com

Shutterstock.com

Oh, what an ugly difference a dozen years can make.

At the beginning of the 21st century, the newspaper business was a happy one, fed by fat profit margins and a lack of competition in most cities. Philadelphia was no different: Yes, it had two major daily papers, but they shared an owner, reached different audiences — and maximized revenue.

What’s happened since then has been brutal. Everybody knows about the bankruptcy, revolving door ownership, and multiple rounds of layoffs that the Inquirer and Daily News — along with their digital cousin, Philly.com — have experienced in recent years. But a new document obtained by Philadelphia magazine shows just how deep the pain went.

The document is called “Interstate General Media: EBITDA Trend – 2000-2012.” (EBITDA stands for “earnings before interest, taxes, depreciation, and amortization” and is one way to measure a company’s profitability.) And it reveals how the finances of Philadelphia’s leading newspapers imploded during that time — a period covering four owners: Knight Ridder, McClatchy, Brian Tierney, and finally the hedge fund owners who brought the newspapers out of bankruptcy. The last two years — that include two different sets of local ownership, one headed by George Norcross, the more recent one by Gerry Lenfest — are not included.

The document reveals:

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The Paywall Gets a Little Lower at the Inky Website

The hard and high paywall is dead. Long live the somewhat lowered paywall.

More than a year after the Inquirer and Daily News unveiled their new websites — hidden behind “hard” paywalls that required a paid subscription (or, more often, an access code) to read — the paywalls are softening a bit. Starting today, readers who go to Inquirer.com via links on Facebook or Twitter will get to read the story for free.

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Journalism Critics Question Philadelphia Daily News Cover

dailynews-cover

Oh, yeah, we should probably make note of this Daily News cover today. The paper has a 2,700-word piece on sex slavery in Philadelphia. A lot of it is harrowing — a pimp named King Kobra would “send the young women who worked for him into the Gallery at Market East to try to recruit new girls,” Morgan Zalot writes — and yet it has to share space on the cover with Sexy Singles. With Sexy Singles Day 2: The Swimsuit Edition. There’s not even a Monkee in it this year!

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Christine Flowers Insults a Philly Civil Rights Hero

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We were reading Christine Flowers’ column this morning, thinking maybe once we could get through it without spitting our coffee in rage. After all, she was writing in favor of letting 30th Street Station keep its name — an understandable stance — and waxing rhapsodic about “old” Philadelphia.

Cute, really. But then she did this:

I mean, who was Cecil B. Moore and what did he do with my subway stop? (And hold the emails, I actually do know who Cecil B. Moore was.)

For the love of God.

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Interview: Stan Wischnowski Leads Philly Newspapers to the Future

Stan Wischnowski has been named Vice President, News Operations for The Inquirer, Daily News and Philly.com.

Stan Wischnowski has been named Vice President, News Operations for The Inquirer, Daily News and Philly.com.

In an Inquirer newsroom often known for infighting and factionalism, longtime editor Stan Wischnowski somehow emerged with his own reputation … for being a nice guy.

Whether that reputation can help him survive in his new job is an open question. As the new vice president of news operations for Interstate General Media (a job that didn’t exist until new company owner Gerry Lenfest gave it to him this week), Wischnowski gets to set the strategic direction of the Inquirer, Daily News and Philly.com.

It’s a tall order:

• He has to manage the company’s long-faltering transition to the digital era — with his first job being to get Philly.com and the newspapers to play nice with each other, to each side’s benefit, instead of constantly bickering.

• He has has to reinvigorate a Sunday paper that — even with large print circulation losses in the last year — remains the economic engine powering much that happens at the company.

• And he’ll probably need to do what nobody else in the industry has quite managed yet: Figure out how to make newspaper-style journalism pay — online or off — so that his newsrooms can continue to do their job for the next few decades.

It’s clear in talking to Wischnowski that Philly.com — which, after all, has the largest audience of the three newsrooms — will be central to his strategy for distributing and promoting the journalism of all three.  “Philly.com is still the dominant website in the region and we have an opportunity to make it better,” he said. “I think we owe it to our users to make it much easier to find what it is they are looking for.”

Last week, following his promotion, Wischnowski spoke to PhillyMag about the task ahead. Some excerpts:

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