Press Lord 2.0

Can a self-made adman with big ideas and a Walter Annenberg fascination save the Inquirer and Daily News? Maybe. But when Brian Tierney’s finished, the newspaper business may never be the same

But the thing that really got the journalists was when Tierney said, “I really do believe, from the bottom of my heart, that the next great era of Philadelphia journalism begins today.” The key word was “great.” The Inky had some great journalists, but it wasn’t great. Day to day, the Inky sucked. It even sucked in comparison to the Daily News, where years of draconian staff cuts had forced the DN’s editors to concentrate on its core strengths. The Inky’s staffers knew they were putting out an inferior product. And it hurt them.

See, most journalists are secret sentimentalists, like cops. Journalists are taught in j-schools that their profession is special and important: the first draft of history, democracy’s bulwark against tyranny. Then, if they’re lucky, they go to work at these metro dailies, these citadels designed to serve and protect the traditional values of journalism by teaching a culture of collective sacrifice for the Greater Good. Many journalists are happy to sacrifice — to risk their lives in Iraq (like several young Inky reporters), or to have a Kalashnikov pointed at their head by a Russian soldier (photographer Eric Mencher), or to board a rickety plane in the Balkans while suffering through a head cold, thereby developing an incurable inner-ear condition that causes a recurring clicking sound every four or five seconds (metro columnist Daniel Rubin) — because they believe that “We’re a different kind of business,” in Rubin’s words. Even the lazy journos at the Inky, the ones who never file stories and phone in the ones they do, believe they’re part of something virtuous. Journalists need to believe. They need a leader who lifts their specific morale. If morale goes, the gears grind and squeal.

That’s why journalists were so encouraged last fall when Tierney hired Bill Marimow as their new editor, replacing Amanda Bennett, who was such a non-presence in the newsroom that journalists kept track of how often the lights in her office, keyed to motion detectors, clicked off. Marimow was different: a native Philly kid, a meat-and-potatoes newsman. Last August, after going to see Invincible — the Vince Papale bio-pic — Marimow wrote Tierney a letter. The two hit it off. On a scale of one to 10, Marimow says, his relationship with Tierney is a 10. “I like him,” says Marimow. “I respect him. I think he’s a man of enormous energy and creativity and an ineradicable can-do spirit.” Marimow says he wants the Inky to become “a shining beacon to a lot of other papers who are battered down.”