Letters to the Editor
Here's my Pick 6:
1. Call a rabbi and have him put out a contract on the Ridder family.
2. Schedule a nice lunch for every columnist who's been at it for five years or longer, and afterwards, take them into the back alley and put a bullet behind their ears. Then give Clark DeLeon his column back, but promise to kill him if he ever writes about MOVE again.
3. Run the paper's tired, sick, huddled masses of clock-punching slugs into retirement or shoe sales, no matter the legal cost.
4. That leaves 75 percent of the staff. Now give everyone a 10 percent cash raise, not those goddamn stock options, and tell them to work like their jobs depend on it.
5. Forget the 'burbs. Nothing remotely worthy of anyone's attention has ever happened in Hatboro or Cinnaminson, or however the hell you spell the name of that godforsaken outpost. The school lunch menu is as interesting as it gets.
6. Recognize this above all else: The only things your readers have in common are Philadelphia, Harrisburg, Washington, D.C., sports, and, on slow days, Trenton. Cover everything in all those places, and cover it like you invented the franchise on information and creativity, no matter what the reader surveys say, no matter what [publisher] Bob Hall says, and no matter what some asshole told you at lunch.
Columnist, Los Angeles Times
Inquirer columnist, 1985 to 1987
Please take care of the following, in no particular order but before the next subscription giveaway expires:
Contributing editor, Vanity Fair; author, A Prayer for the City
Inquirer reporter, 1981 to 1988
First, you need a little less conversation and a little more action. You kicked off your search for a new managing editor-the first big decision you'd make as the Inky's new chief-with a company-wide e-mail outlining your hopes, your dreams, your reading list for the candidate. The list, alas, included little journalism, but plenty of books like Managing from the Sub-Basement Up and Who Moved My Prayer of Jabez. Reporters snickered. And after months of hand-wringing and speechifying and no M.E., your top choice bailed at the 11th hour (after, rumors ran, his wife decided Philly was an armpit). It took you months to tap an in-house candidate who came out smelling like a second choice. The moral? Less sharing and caring and managerial babble; more swift, decisive hires.
Second, you need to surprise and delight your readers. I know you need suburban readers, but you don't necessarily have to woo busy soccer moms with stories about busy soccer moms, interspersed with columns by a busy soccer mom. (Oy, those sugary soft drinks! Oh, those SUVs!) People turn to newspapers to see the world they know, but also to glimpse a world they can only imagine. The average Jane and Joe might not dine at Le Bec-Fin, but they'll devour Craig LaBan's review. They might not head to Russia for an overseas bride, but I bet some of them are still talking about the “From Russia with Love” series. Don't be afraid of stories that are trenchant and provocative, have nothing to do with the 'burbs, and might even piss people off.
Inquirer feature writer, 1996-2001
When you appeared on my radio show recently, you said you wanted the sports beats at the Inquirer handled the same way your reporters cover City Hall.
I guess you haven't had a chance to read your own sports section yet.
As someone who worked there for seven years, with some distinction, I cannot begin to express the frustration and anguish that arrive every day with my morning paper. What was once an aggressive and creative sports section has become a gutless, clueless abomination. It has no direction, no perspective, and above all, no backbone.
If the Inquirer actually covered City Hall the way it covers the Eagles, John Street would be regarded by now as a modern-day JFK and the Philadelphia school system would be the crown jewel of American education. Many of the Inquirer sportswriters are not just in bed with the teams they cover; they're sharing a post-coital smoke.
Before you toss aside my ideas below on how to change the Inquirer sports section, please forget for a moment my current role as the morning bullhorn at WIP. I come with journalistic credentials. I hold a master's degree from the Graduate School of Journalism at Columbia University (1977), and I was a nominee for the Pulitzer prize at the Inquirer for my coverage of the 1986 Philadelphia Eagles.
And here's how I'd fix the problem at the Inquirer sports department:
Make the reader No. 1 again. Who the hell is reading the endless stream of stories on women's lacrosse, high-school pseudo-heroes and deep sociological trends? Nobody cares! Give the readers what they want-the scores, the stories behind the scores, the gossip, and strong opinions on all of the above. The rest is wasted space.
Grow a pair. Is there a sports section in America with less balls than the Inquirer? With the exceptions of Bill Lyon, Tim Panaccio and Stephen A. Smith, name a columnist or reporter who is willing to express a perspective that isn't ridiculously safe or painfully obvious.
Say NO to P.C. The worst thing about the Inquirer sports section is that it tries to please everybody but serves nobody. Management wanted either a woman or a black columnist to lend a minority voice, so it went with a two-for-one, Claire Smith. When she finally surrendered after years of vacuous work, she left the job with no clue about Philadelphia, and no readers. The Inky was one of the first sports sections to hire a woman editor, Nancy Cooney. Never heard of her? I didn't think so. For once, the Inquirer should hire the best people for jobs, instead of using the sports department as a place to fulfill hiring quotas.
If you meant what you said on my show that day, you'll act now.
But first, you're going to have to read the damn thing.
WIP Radio talk-show host
Inquirer sports reporter, 1983 to 1990