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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McCaffery Asks Judge to Restrain Inquirer

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Pennsylvania Supreme Court Justice Seamus McCaffery is asking a court to preemptively prohibit the Philadelphia Inquirer from publishing personal information about him and his wife, the Legal Intelligencer reports.

The request comes as part of McCaffery’s lawsuit against the paper; the courts, however, generally frown on “prior restraint” of publication — they’d rather punish a newspaper after the fact for getting something wrong rather than order a newspaper entirely not to publish.

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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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Interstate General Media Spokesman Mark Block Has Resigned

Mark Block, the spokesman for Interstate General Media, publishers of the Inquirer and Daily News, has resigned. He is being replaced by Jonathan Tevis.

Block, whose career spanned a number of ownership groups at the papers and Philly.com, was often the face of the company during difficult times; big internal emails often went out under his name.

According to Linkedin, Tevis has been rising on the biz side of the newspapers since 2006. He’d taken a more public role since Gerry Lenfest’s acquisition of the papers, so this transition isn’t a huge surprise.

Block’s farewell email, below:

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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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