Meet the New Philly.com Brain Trust

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Mike Topel, left, and Eric Ulken of Philly.com.

Meet the new braintrust of Philly.com. These are the guys who may hold the future of Philadelphia’s two major daily newspapers in their hands.

Mike Topel, the executive editor of Philly.com, is an old hand — he worked on the print side at the Inquirer, then Philly.com, before leaving for several years. He returned this summer to lead the operation. Eric Ulken arrived shortly after from the Seattle Times to become the site’s director of digital strategy — a position that has a foot both in journalism and the business of Philly.com

With the recent announcement that the Inquirer and Daily News sites are shutting down and folding into Philly.com, this duo’s work becomes more important than ever to the future of the Interstate General Media, which owns all three organizations. It’s a fraught assignment: The three newsrooms have a spotty record, at best, of cooperation. Philly.com has had its own reputational problems. But the duo vows a renewed emphasis on journalism — and on making that journalism look good on the web.

The two sat down with Philly Mag recently to talk about the future of Philly.com, how to get three newsrooms to cooperate together on the web, what went wrong with the newspapers’ websites, and Philly.com’s advantages in the marketplace.

Oh, and we talked about comments. Of course.

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Inky, Daily News Websites Shutting Down

Soon to be no more.

Soon to be no more.

The websites for the Inquirer and Daily News will shut down in December, leaving Philly.com as the sole website distributing the journalism of the two papers.

“In December, we will fold the Inquirer.com and PhillyDailyNews.com sites back into Philly.com, our flagship digital brand,” journalists at Interstate General Media, which owns all three entities, were told in a memorandum today. “What this means is that the standalone newspaper-branded sites will no longer exist and will instead redirect readers to Philly.com, where users will find Inquirer and Daily News journalism featured more prominently and have access to branded Inquirer and Daily News section fronts that represent the editorial voice and judgment of the newspapers.”
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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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Lawyers Identify Johnny Doc’s “Anonymous” Philly.com Commenter

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Screen shot of Stephen Montemuro’s Twitter page taken at 3:30  on April 19th, 2014

Electrical union boss John “Johnny Doc” Dougherty is suing “anonymous” Philly.com commenter “FBPDPLT” for calling him a “pedophile” in a 2012 comment, and back in March, Philadelphia Common Pleas Court Judge Jacqueline Allen ordered Philly.com to turn over any identifying information it had on the commenter. Philly.com gave Dougherty’s attorney an IP address, and now the previously anonymous commenter has been named in a court filing as Stephen J. Montemuro.

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Lenfest to Inquirer, Daily News Reporters: “Work Hard But Rest Easy”

Leaders of the Newspaper Guild, the union that represents the journalists of the Inquirer, Daily News, and Philly.com, had their first formal meeting with new owner Gerry Lenfest on Tuesday. Some developments:

• Lenfest told the journalists he is “committed” to continuing with two papers, meaning the perpetually in danger Daily News can rest easy for the moment.

• He’s considering keeping Philly.com as its own, independent entity with its own identity.

• He expects to have a publisher in place within three months.

• He does not expect to seek any wage cuts from journalists, and may offer a contract longer than two years during the next round of negotiations.

• He buried the hatchet with Bill Ross, the guild’s executive director. The two famously feuded by letter during the Inky’s ownership crisis.

A full memo from the Guild regarding the meeting, after the jump:

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Lenfest Appoints Interim Philly.com Editor

Any print devotee who hoped against hope the new ownership of Interstate General Media might let Philly.com whither and die — or at least fade into the background — had better rethink their goals. New owner Gerry Lenfest today appointed an interim executive editor to the website: Mike Topel.

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Today Is the First Day of the Rest of the Inquirer’s Life

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Well, I was almost right.

A year-and-a-half ago, I took stock of the then-new ownership of Philly’s major daily newspapers and offered the following declaration: “There are no white knights left. These owners, and this band of journalists, will decide whether the Inquirer, the Daily News, and Philly.com have a real future in this city.”

Today, that band of owners is getting divorced. And as has happened an absurd number of times over the last decade, the papers find themselves at a crossroads. Today, today really is the first day of the rest of the Philadelphia Inquirer’s life.

But I wasn’t entirely wrong. We already know that today’s auction of the papers will result, simply, in a faction of the the current ownership gaining full control. Either the “majority faction” led by George Norcross, or the minority faction composed of Lew Katz and Gerry Lenfest will end up owning the joint lock, stock, and barrel. The cast hasn’t really changed: It’s just losing a few faces.

Which means, once and again, that ahem: These owners and this band of journalists (those who survive the ownership change, anyway) will decide the future of Philadelphia’s most important journalistic institutions. Really, this time.

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Newspapers to Lose Lobby as New Retail Headed to 801 Market Street

In a memo sent to all Inquirer, Daily News and Philly.com employees yesterday, publisher Bob Hall announced some new retail for 801 Market Street! He didn’t disclose what, exactly, was coming to the old Strawbridge & Clothier building in Market East, but the Inquirer reports it’s Century 21 — no relation to the real estate company — a discount designer department store with seven locations in New York and New Jersey. Hall told employees at the newspapers and website that they will “be pleased with the flagship retailer that PREIT has secured and will soon announce as our new neighbor in the coming weeks” — oh, and also, they’ll now have to enter the building from Eighth Street.

The memo contains lots of classic corporate speak — the closing of the Market Street lobby, which people who work at 801 Market generally use, is presented as a great opportunity for the company — and also notes that “deconstruction of the space will at times be loud and somewhat messy.” Unfortunately, Hall uses two spaces after a period — argh!

More deatils on the Century 21 announcement at Shoppist.

 

The full memo follows:

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Philly.com’s Frightening Finance Guru

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There’s a decent chance you’ve never heard of Dave Ramsey, and the reason should be familiar: In an era when our Red State-Blue State bifurcation means we can’t agree about anything, we don’t even have pop culture in common anymore. So maybe the easiest way to introduce Ramsey is explain that he’s the finance guru to the Duck Dynasty set, an evangelical version of Suze Orman.

He is also Philly.com’s “business columnist” — though really, more of a personal finance advice columnist.

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