Would You Buy a Paper From This Man?

“You poor bastard.”

Those were the first words I heard from Walker Lundy. I'd sent him an e-mail, proposing to write about him and his first year as editor of the Philadelphia Inquirer-the third top editor in 11 years. Referring to a New Yorker profile that ran in June, I promised I would not dog him as much as Ken Auletta dogged Howell Raines, the new editor of the New York Times. Nor would I write damn near 20,000 words, as Auletta did-but that was the model.”If you can find 20,000 words to say about me,” he wrote back, “you deserve the Pulitzer prize.”

Last November 28th, Lundy arrived on the job from St. Paul, Minnesota, three weeks after Robert Rosenthal abruptly resigned. One reporter actually burst into tears upon hearing about “Rosey,” and because he left over a dispute with upper management, his resignation only stoked the resentment against the paper's corporate parent, Knight Ridder. Most of the Inquirer's 500 newsroom staffers think the paper has fallen a long way from its halcyon days under Gene Roberts in the 1970s and 1980s, when it won 17 Pulitzers. (Since Roberts left in 1990, the paper has won only one.) And they've come to suspect that Lundy was hired to purge the newspaper of the last traces of the Roberts era.

Initially, Lundy disarmed people with his wit and unpretentious manner. But as one reporter recalls, “That lasted about six weeks.” By midsummer, reporters were openly bitching to the City Paper and Philadelphia Weekly. By autumn, one high-level editor summed up the mood in the newsroom this way: “I think the antagonism is as strong as it ever was, and has gotten worse, and has seeped into the marrow of the place.”

Yet there sat Lundy, in the eye of the hurricane, and he was more than unflappable. He was almost jolly. “I'm living my fantasy here,” he told me in August. “What if they made you editor of the Philadelphia Inquirer-wouldn't you think that was pretty cool?”

Oh, cool! His staffers are so sour and contentious that when he says he'll hire two dozen new reporters by laying off 10 part-time clerks, they form a picket line on North Broad Street.

Oh, cool! Because reporters are unionized, he can't fire those who are poisoning office morale.

Oh, cool! Maybe he had so much trouble hiring a managing editor because the Inquirer is no longer a “destination” newspaper, the capstone of a great career, and Knight Ridder now has a horrendous reputation in the business.

Oh, cool! For 20 years, the Inquirer has wobbled in the suburbs, trotting out various zoned editions only to fold them when corporate revenues have a bad hair day. Not only is it Lundy's job to come up with a workable “suburban strategy,” but he has to tell everyone: Honest, folks, this time Tony Ridder won't pull the rug out from under us!

Oh, cool! While Knight Ridder was dithering in the suburbs, a little publishing company in Trenton came along and bought up most of the daily and weekly papers in the suburbs surrounding Philadelphia. The Journal Register Company has amassed a combined regional circulation of 1.2 million-more than three times the Inky's daily circulation.

I'm no psychologist-but do you think Walker Lundy might be projecting his own dilemma onto me?

I mean, who's the poor bastard here?

Let's give Lundy due credit: He understands the Inquirer's central problem. He knows that most days, the paper is a bit of a snoozer.

“The easiest job in the world is to quit reading,” he says. “The biggest enemy of this paper is that we're too boring and we're too predictable. If anything kills us, you know, it won't be the timeliness of the Internet; it will be because we bored people to death.”

Merely acknowledging the threat posed by the Inquirer's grayness of tone sets Lundy apart from his predecessors, Max King and Rosenthal, both of whom came of age during the Roberts era. The key question, of course, is whether Lundy can do anything about it. Is he the right man for the job? Does he have the vision to turn this thing around? Will he push hard enough to deal with the myriad problems that show up as bad coverage and weak writing in every day's pages? Or will he be remembered, essentially, as a steward who did little more than rearrange the Titanic's deck chairs?

For starters, let's acknowledge his recent success. Lundy has actually won a Pulitzer prize. He edited the St. Paul Pioneer Press from 1990 to 2001, and in 1999, one of his sports reporters broke a story about how coaches at the University of Minnesota hired a woman to write term papers for the players on the men's basketball team. Lundy guided that story, and a year's worth of follow-up pieces, that together were awarded a Pulitzer in 2000.

Like a lot of people in the newspaper business, Lundy got started early. He grew up in Tampa, Florida, one of two sons of a sales rep for Gulf Oil, and at Plant High School he was sports editor of the student paper. “It's all I've ever wanted to do,” he says of journalism. He graduated from the University of Florida in 1964 with a B.S. in journalism and got a job doing general assignment reporting at the Atlanta Journal-Constitution. He also met Saralyn Bone, a medical mycologist (mold specialist) for the Centers for Disease Control. They married in 1967. Thirty-five years later, they're still married, and, he says, “It's starting to look like it's gonna last.”

Also like a lot of people in the newspaper business, he's moved around. In the 1970s, he held down editing jobs at the Detroit Free Press, the Charlotte Observer and the Tallahassee Democrat. In 1983, he took a year off for a fellowship at Stanford, then moved to Fort Worth to become managing editor of the Star Telegram. From there, he became editor of the Arkansas

Gazette in Little Rock. He had falling-outs with publishers at both of those papers, and went to Gannett's headquarters in Washington, D.C., to lick his wounds. He was doing “literally nothing” there, he says, when the top editing job in St. Paul opened up.

In St. Paul, Lundy had to compete with the larger Minneapolis Star Tribune across the river. Nonetheless, he managed a small circulation gain during his 11-year tenure.

“All I knew was, he was the editor of the paper, and it made us move around a lot,” says his daughter, Sarah, 29, of her childhood; she's now a reporter at the Post and Courier in Charleston, South Carolina. “I never thought that was cool until I read All the President's Men in high school.” Her brother, Dan, 32, is an aspiring actor in Hollywood. (His first prime-time role was a self-described “pasty white guy” in a September episode of the Fox series Cedric the Entertainer Presents.) Both children are full of praise for their father-which is not always true of adult children who've moved far away. “He loves what he does,” says Sarah. “He believes papers do a valuable service. I don't think people in Philadelphia truly understand him yet.”

Lundy has a calm, gentlemanly demeanor, a folksy charm, and a dry sense of humor that sometimes sails over people's heads, mine included. He employs that sense of humor to put a room at ease. He uses words like “gaggle.” He utters phrases like “holy cow” and “nobody gives a hoot in hell.” He has a soothing, resonant, perfect-for-radio voice that sounds like it might have hosted the Farm and Home Show in another life. He's tall, with blue eyes, wire-rimmed glasses and thinning hair. He'll wear suits or Tommy Hilfiger shirts and khakis, depending on his schedule. He openly credits Saralyn for the fact that “my tie and my pants match on some days.” Notice that Lundy doesn't mention his suit coat-he works in his shirtsleeves.

Despite that Pulitzer in St. Paul, his goal isn't to win prizes. His goal is to win readers. “His great strength as an editor is that he cares passionately about whether people read the newspaper,” says Mindi Keirnan, who was his managing editor for news in St. Paul from 1990 to 1994.

“He's a national-caliber editor,” says Rich Oppel, the editor of the Austin, Texas, American-Statesman and president of the American Society of Newspaper Editors last year. Oppel and Lundy have known each other since 1962, when they were college kids working at the Tampa Tribune. In the late 1970s, they shared a backyard fence in Tallahassee, where Oppel was executive editor of the Democrat and hired Lundy to be managing editor. He states flatly, “Walker is absolutely equipped to take over the Inquirer.”

That's not what reporters were saying when Lundy was named as the New Guy barely an hour after they were told that Rosey was leaving. Within minutes of the news, the rumor spread that Lundy's nickname in a previous job had been “Walking Blunder.” I can't track down the truth of that, but it's not important; the rumor reflects the insularity of the Inquirer newsroom. And its xenophobia. “He's an outsider,” says one reporter. “He's imported. [Former editor] Max [King] and Rosey grew up in this place; they just knew all this stuff.”

If that wasn't enough of a problem, Lundy-Lucky Lundy!-was walking into a newsroom still shell-shocked from losing every fifth colleague. In 1995, 1999, 2000 and 2001, a series of buyout packages was offered-and in the last two rounds, nearly 80 reporters and editors bolted. A cost-cutting measure, buyouts can easily backfire, because you risk losing the very people you want to keep. Indeed, some of the Inquirer's leading lights said goodbye. Marc Duvoisin and David Zucchino collected their checks, then got jobs at the Los Angeles Times. Managing editor William “Butch” Ward left to be a corporate VP at Independence Blue Cross.

Those who have stayed fondly recall the late-'70s Roberts era as the paper's golden age. It was a time when readers flocked to hard news rather than pop-culture fluff. Trouble is, times have changed-today's Inquirer competes for readers with an ever-widening array of old and new media-but those inside the newsroom have not. On primary night last May, for example, most reporters and editors at the paper were glued to the contest between Ed Rendell and Bob Casey. It's said that Lundy came back to his office after dinner to finish some work-and turned on his TV to Judging Amy. The newsroom was scandalized. And that incident says something else about the insularity of the Inquirer's reporters. Most people just don't care about the horse-race aspect of politics. Like Lundy, they are content to wait for the 11 o'clock news.

Foes of Lundy get no support from Zack Stalberg, editor of the Daily News. “He's an old pro,” he says of Lundy. “He shouldn't be underestimated.” He says he backed Lundy from the beginning. “[pni publisher Robert] Hall said, 'Rosey's leaving, and there are two candidates for the job.' I asked who, and he said, 'You and Walker.' I said, 'Hire Walker.' That was the end of the conversation.”

Stalberg doesn't bemoan the passing of the Roberts era, or its people. He thinks the Inquirer needs to lighten up-and that the problem goes all the way back to the hiring decisions Gene Roberts made more than 20 years ago. “I believe that many of the people who were there were the sons and daughters of very successful people,” says Stalberg. “Mom was a psychologist and Dad was a big-time lawyer. They went to the right schools, they grew up in the late '60s, and they came to journalism almost as if they were going into the Peace Corps. That's the group. You hate to indict a whole newsroom, but in assembling a very smart bunch of traditional journalists, what Gene also accidentally assembled was a group of people who took life too fucking seriously.”

It's 10:30 a.m. on Friday, September 27th, in a glass-walled conference room at the Inquirer. Time for the morning news meeting. The front page of each section of today's paper is taped to one wall. A dozen editors sit around a conference table. First, they'll critique today's paper; then they'll look at the big stories for tomorrow. Presiding over this daily meeting is Walker Lundy; he sits at the center of the table, his 20-ounce paper cup of iced tea close at hand. What you learn, very quickly, in these meetings is that editors are often just as befuddled as you are by what they read in the paper.

Rich Oppel had told me that Lundy was “the master of the dumb question,” and now I get to see him in action. The banner story this morning was the 12-year, $115 million contract given to Eagles quarterback Donovan McNabb. Lundy is pressing the assistant sports editor about a line in Phil Sheridan's story: “There's a sentence that says the Eagles can cancel the contract anytime they choose. What kind of contract is that?” Hum-um-um-um. Finally, the editor, Mike Schaffer, says, “I think we need a better explanation” in tomorrow's paper. Lundy suggests that while they're at it, they come up with a “fun graphic” of how many cans of chunky beef soup (which McNabb endorses) that much money can buy.

On the front page of the B section is a story about people who make a living cleaning up after other people's pets. The copy desk came up with the headline: pet waste professionals answer a call to doody. Lundy calls it “the headline of the month.”

After the meeting, we walk back to his office, and I ask: Just what are his intentions for the Inquirer? Less foreign news? More doggy doody? “We're broadening the definition of news,” he says, and illustrates his point by placing his hands 18 inches apart, then moving his left hand another six inches away. “You're not losing the seriousness,” he says, giving his right hand a little shake for emphasis. “You're just adding the beef soup graphic, or the pooper-scooper story.”

Of course, he's still running stories about the President's drumbeat of war against Iraq on the front page, day after day. “I don't want the readers to say, if we're at war six months from now, 'How the hell did this happen?' We are becoming more local-but you don't turn your back on the rest of the world.”

“It's easy to dismiss him as a know-nothing cracker,” Rich Oppel says of his old friend Walker. “But you could have made the same mistake about Gene Roberts 30 years ago. With all due respect, he's better prepared for the job than Max King or Bob Rosenthal. They had the heritage and the legacy. They know the city and the people in the newsroom. But Walker has more experience as an editor. He has worked many more years shoulder-to-shoulder with publishers, corporate vice presidents, and even Tony Ridder,” the chair and ceo of Knight Ridder.

Oppel's no psychologist, either, but he suspects some reporters at 400 North Broad are in denial. “The people who work on the staff have got to come to grips with the fact that there's no internal savior who will protect them from Knight Ridder. It doesn't work that way,” he admonishes. “What you really want is someone who's an articulate advocate, someone who's passionate about journalism and who sees the people at Knight Ridder as his friends and colleagues.”

The “people at Knight Ridder” are located three time zones away, in San Jose, California. Knight Ridder is the nation's second largest newspaper chain, after Gannett. It owns 32 daily papers, including the Detroit Free Press, the Miami Herald, and most of the papers where Walker Lundy has worked.

And this much has to be said: The staff of the Inquirer is not making up the bean-counting parsimony of its corporate parent. At the hometown paper, the San Jose Mercury News, publisher Jay Harris resigned last year rather than implement the latest round of budget cuts. Harris wasn't the editor-he was the publisher. The money guy! Academics, social critics and journalists regard the chain as having sacrificed public service for short-term profit. A just-released report by the Carnegie Corporation of New York, “The Business of News,” nicely summarizes the widespread perception: “The Knight Ridder company has become a kind of poster child for fraying values.”

But Rich Oppel surely is right about one thing. In the grand scheme of things, Knight Ridder is not the enemy. The real enemy is the nation's vanishing interest in newspapers.

Your eyes may glaze over when you read numbers, but I need you to get your mind around one key statistic: In 1983, right after the Bulletin closed, the Philadelphia Inquirer hit a peak daily circulation of 552,000. By September of 2001, that number had sunk to 365,000. That's a 34 percent slide in 18 years!

Imagine the mood around your place of employment if your customers were heading for the exits at that rate. In the past year, the Inquirer's daily (Monday-Saturday) circulation has bounced up a bit, rising to 373,892 as of September 30th. But do we attribute that to Lundy's leadership-or to circulation discounts? I'm paying $2.38 a week for home delivery now, vs. $3.51 a year ago-and $4.39 three years ago.

Nationally, the proportion of the population that reads a newspaper every day has fallen a percentage point a year since the first measurement by the National Opinion Research Center back in 1967-it now stands at less than 40 percent. Fewer Americans are reading newspapers, and there are fewer newspapers to read. The evening newspaper, once the dominant form, is all but extinct. (Are you old enough to remember the Bulletin?) The survival of the Daily News depended in part on its switch to morning distribution in 1990.

Significantly, America's confidence in the press has also been dropping. These declines are both steep and consistent, reports Philip Meyer, a former Knight Ridder editor who's now a professor of journalism at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. He summed up the key facts in a recent academic paper titled “Anatomy of a Death Spiral”: fewer readers means less revenue, which leads to budget cuts, which leads to a diminished product, which loses readers.

It's not that newspapers are losing money-oh, far from it. Newspapers are still one of the most lucrative industries. Compared to most businesses, they're filthy rich: The average operating profit among medium-to-large dailies is about 19 percent. Which illustrates what any newsroom scribe has been saying all along: Management has been ruthlessly efficient at trimming costs and raising prices to maintain this amazingly high profitability, even as the product goes the way of the buggy whip.

Tony Ridder is something of a whiz at this. Since he became ceo in March 1995, his newspapers as a group have lost circulation at a rate double the national average. Yet Knight Ridder papers have repeatedly gotten away with raising advertising rates.

But sooner or later, this little song will end. In 1999, Intel co-founder Andy Grove warned a convention of newspaper editors that their business model was about to crash and burn. He implied that they had roughly three years left before online classified ad sites began stealing their lunch money-and from there, it was all over but the shouting.

Okay, so Grove's timing was off. Still, he was telling the newspaper industry what it already knew-the future spelled trouble with a capital T. And much of the pain is being felt by big-city papers like the Inquirer, which are losing readers to TV, the Internet-and the suburbs. “Every major metro daily struggles to compete in the suburbs,” says Carole Leigh Hutton, the executive editor of the Detroit Free Press. “It's a whole different challenge, and it takes a lot of resources to do it.”

Zack Stalberg explains the Inquirer's spotty suburban coverage this way: “They let it go. They focused on the city-and the stories Gene [Roberts] cared about. Until recently, I'd say that the editors of the Inquirer never really understood the fact that 75 percent of their readers live out there, and that they have entirely different interests than the people at 400 North Broad Street. Can they now convince this newsroom of 500 people that it's the suburbs that matter? What they need is a big sign, a James Carville-like sign: it's the suburbs, stupid.”

It would be misleading to say the Inquirer has done nothing about its suburban coverage. The problem is, the coverage has been too little and too erratic. Twenty years ago, the first Neighbors section was launched. Glenn Guzzo was the architect of that early strategy; he eventually launched nine sections, and they were truly papers within a paper. They covered local board meetings, local crime, local real estate-and they were meant for small areas that had cohesive regional identities. In other words, Guzzo didn't automatically use county borders to define his zones. “When you do county zoning,” he says, “there's a pretty good chance that you're doing it for the convenience of the newspaper rather than the needs of its readers.”

Yet that's exactly what the Inquirer went and did. In 1990, in a cost-cutting move, the paper went to county-wide zones. In some metropolitan areas, a newspaper could get away with county zoning-but not in Philadelphia. Our suburbs are balkanized, with school boards and planning boards in every township-as opposed to, say, Maryland, where school districts are structured along county lines. Moreover, we're keenly attuned to what sets us apart. There are more than 300 townships in the seven suburban counties, and they might be Jewish, Catholic, Baptist, inner-ring, outer ring, pro-growth, no-growth, old-money, new-money or no-money. People in Devon, for example, don't think of themselves as part of the Main Line anymore; they're part of the Western Main Line. And they're starting to shy away from the so-called Lower Main Line, which is down there in a different world on the other side of the Blue Route.

All of that makes suburban coverage especially difficult here. And recently, it seemed as if the Inquirer had simply thrown in the towel. I live with more than 30,000 other people in Tredyffrin Township, Chester County; we were getting a weekly Neighbors section that lumped us in with the Main Line and Delaware County-but didn't cover Tredyffrin. On a typical Thursday morning this summer, its front page contained features about: a 92-year-old chaplain, an author of a macrobiotic cookbook, and a little shuttle service that operates miles away from us, in Souderton, at the far edge of Montgomery County. That is just pathetic. It seemed like an empty shell of a section-and as it turned out, that was exactly right. “They did away with the number of people it requires to produce Neighbors, and we continued to produce Neighbors,” Lundy explained.


He is quick to acknowledge the erratic history of suburban coverage. “I can make a graphic out of it,” he says, sitting on the couch in his office-and he makes a serpentine motion with his hand. But he has no patience for analyzing what's past. “I haven't spent a lot of time going back inquiring; I've got a lot of other stuff to do, and it sort of doesn't matter,” he says.

He does have a lot of other stuff to do-like fixing those past missteps. The biggest project of his first year, clearly, has been a major shift of staff and money to cover the suburbs more comprehensively. He announced that on page one on Sunday, October 13th, under the headline we're adding local news to serve you. His changes include:

  • Hiring 26 new reporters;

  • Shifting current reporters into dozens of new “beats” in the suburbs, covering clusters of townships, but also broader aspects such as immigration, the environment and sprawl;

  • Basing two of the paper's three columnists in the suburbs (Tom Ferrick will continue to write from Philadelphia);

  • Abolishing the Thursday Neighbors and creating eight all-local suburban Sunday Neighbors sections staffed entirely by swps-the “suburban writers and photographers,” who are paid roughly half of what regular Inquirer reporters earn;

  • Splitting the daily Local News section-the B section-into five zones: Chester County, Bucks County, Upper Montgomery County, South Jersey, and Philadelphia and Its Suburbs; that last one will cover the entire city plus all of Delaware County and the Main Line, extending outward to-damn!-Tredyffrin Township in Chester County.

    Lundy says he's sticking with county-wide editions until he figures out a way to stop time about 3 a.m.: “As long as we are tied to a printing press and putting the paper in trucks and driving the paper out to places, and giving it to independent contractors and having them go around and throw it in people's yards, this is going to be the best kind of zoning we can do.”

    And he told me the Inquirer won't get so local that it's running school lunch menus. “We can't out-local the locals,” he says. That's probably wise, because his local competition is formidable. Beginning in 1990, that Trenton company, the Journal Register, began buying up dailies and weeklies in the Philadelphia region. It now owns seven dailies, including the Delaware County Times, the Daily Local News and the Lansdale Reporter. It owns a grand total of 97 weeklies, having just purchased seven in Delaware County, including the Springfield Press. And last year, it built a massive printing plant in Exton to handle all those press runs-and more.

    With such a diverse region, sprawling suburbs and serious local competition, a “suburban strategy” involving beats and zones and daily local commentary pages can only take the Inquirer so far.

    So the question is: What else has Lundy got up his sleeve?

    I'm back for another morning news meeting. Today, October 15th, was the launch of the zoned B sections. For the time being, those sections are only partly filled with local news, inasmuch as the new suburban beats aren't fully staffed. “The local pages aren't there, yet, but we knew they wouldn't be,” Lundy tells the group. “What we're doing is gettin' the plane airborne while we're still building the plane.”

    Mike Schaffer, the assistant sports editor, lives in Havertown, where he gets the “Philadelphia and Its Suburbs” B section. He says a lot of people in Havertown are “allergic” to news about Philadelphia. Yep. This is going to be a problem.

    All through the meeting, nobody pays much attention to a piece of poster board propped on a chair. On it is printed a logo, focus on the readers, and Lundy's laundry list of eight goals: “Be: 1. First. 2. Useful. 3. Surprising. 4. Hell-Raising. 5. Fun. 6. Diverse. 7. Different. 8. A Story-Teller.” At some point the day before, someone had come along with a blue Sharpie and written in: “9. Expendable.”

    After the meeting, I ask Lundy what that means. He says he assumes it refers to the 10 part-time clerks who are getting laid off. (This is before the paper and the union reach an agreement to keep those jobs in place.) He says “some wisenheimer” wrote it. I point out that in many places of business, such a cheeky affront to authority would be removed instantly. He waves it off. “If you let things like that bother you, there'll be more things like that,” he says. Then he defends its humor: “That's a pretty good line.”

    I let it go by asking why he got into journalism-a standard question that he uses in job interviews. “There's the Don Quixote aspect,” he says, “of trying to make things better. I like being given the license to ask impertinent questions. And I like knowing stuff first.” Finally, he likes working with, well, journalists: “They're smart and fun and irreverent and sardonic and creative and insecure and all the things that make for interesting people.”

    And what about 2003? The suburban editions will be up and running; all the new hires will be on board. What's next? “For 2003, I want the goal to be memorable journalism,” he says. “A story that, six months later, you still remember.” Like, for instance? He mentions the story about the guy with the mechanical heart who lived to regret his operation, or the story about the suburban teens who were running a speakeasy in a barn.

    But is that enough? Lundy's answer, again, is short on specifics. “If we're going to grow readership, we've got to do more than cover the news each day,” he says. Yet after a year, he appears to be still tinkering around the edges. He has not yet addressed the paper's lack of voice and attitude. There has been little energy added to the moribund sports and business sections. All the columnists have been varying shades of pale in comparison to Steve Lopez, who seemed to take the paper's chops when he left for L.A. There are few clever headlines, except over editorials, where they are too clever by half-and inappropriate. In fact, on its worst mornings, the Inquirer resembles a tired, second-rate department store: It carries a lot of stuff, but there's nothing you can't get elsewhere, better, from someone else.

    And Lundy is an outsider, after all. “Be nice,” he warned me more than once. Nice? I'm worried about Walker. He might be too nice for this town.

    Aweek later, the Inquirer ran a front-page story that was potentially memorable journalism. Staffer Lini Kadaba reported that Little League Baseball's national organization will now require its local leagues to conduct background sex-offender checks of all those hundreds of thousands of dads who volunteer as coaches, and even the moms who work the snack bars. Kadaba duly reported the story-but didn't dive in and write the story. Here was a chance to excoriate a national board full of fat cats who simply want to cover their asses, to question the advice of a lawyer who wants to do the same, and to do a little eye-rolling at the absurdity of the directive. It could have been framed as a commentary on our times. Here was a quintessential suburban story-and the Inky swung and missed.

    I asked a reporter whose writing I admire why much of the writing at the paper is mediocre. “Walker Lundy cares more about numbers than words,” came the reply. “This could be a toaster company.”

    Then came the familiar litany of complaints: The paper's best staffers have left, the paper can no longer attract national talent, the reporters who are still there feel unloved and unappreciated, they're all depressed, they think Lundy is Tony Ridder's puppet, they think he's unsophisticated. They think he hides in his office, counting bylines: “A year after he got here, no one knows him.”

    This despite the fact that Lundy conducted “Walker Talkers” with small groups in his office for his first few months, at the rate of two a day. And he gave a newsroom committee the money to reward outstanding journalism; each month, that committee unexpectedly circles the desk of a deserving staffer and hands over a $1,000 check.

    Such ideas are among the limited management tools at Lundy's disposal, given that his staff is unionized, represented by the Newspaper Guild. It was not a good sign for future reform, for example, that Lundy essentially caved in and reassigned the 10 part-time clerks he'd targeted for dismissal. Moreover, the particularly bitter reporters who are poisoning morale can't be fired. “They've got to do something seriously wrong to get fired,” admits local guild president Henry Holcomb. “Something that really merits termination-something more than an editor's whim.”

    Holcomb first met Lundy in 1979, when they were both editors elsewhere. He knows Lundy's career. Sounding quite unlike a contentious union boss, he says he hopes Lundy succeeds here. “We all need for him to win,” says Holcomb. “But it's really too soon to say.” Holcomb's good wishes are a good sign, but even he concedes that Lundy's challenge is daunting. He's got to successfully navigate the conflicting demands of corporate managers, who aren't going anywhere, and newsroom staffers, who aren't going anywhere. He's got to deliver a lively and indispensable regional daily for an increasingly diffuse and disinterested region.

    The last words I heard from Walker Lundy, as I finished this article, were: “There's a great joy in having this job.” That's terrific. I'm so glad you feel that way. And you know what? You can have it. To answer your initial question, Walker: No, I would not want to be editor of the Philadelphia Inquirer.

    You poor bastard.