“Man’s Penis Cut Off, Put Through Garbage Disposal”

That was the headline at philly.com yesterday. Is this where local journalism is headed?

As Steve Volk reported on this blog a few days back, the Inquirer and Daily News recently installed flatscreen monitors in their newsrooms to display the stories people are reading online, in real-time.

It’d be easy to turn critical of this techie innovation and imagine that the real time postings will result in the highly-skilled reporters at the Inquirer and Daily News tossing aside their well-developed news instincts and filing stories, as Volk suggests, on “boobs, cars, football, murder, narcotics and Danny Devito sightings”—especially if a little dough-re-me is tossed to the reporters who land the most read stories.

That concern—that lowest common denominator stories could soon rule the day at 401 N. Broad—heightened a bit yesterday when an AP story titled “Man’s penis cut off, put through garbage disposal” was posted on the philly.com home page. The story, datelined Grove City, CA., was listed in the site’s “Nation and World” section, just beneath a story headlined “China says it is drawing up human rights plan.”

Talk about vertigo.

You could visualize the flatscreen monitors exploding all over the newsrooms seconds after that sucker was posted.

These are wicked times for newspapers, and you have to hand it to Philadelphia Media Network honcho Greg Osberg, the boss man of the two newspapers and philly.com, for keeping the devil at the door by innovating at the speed of light.

Just check out some of the things we’ve been told to expect in the near future:
• Deeply discounted Android tablets sold with digital subscriptions to the Inquirer and Daily News
• Free “touch screen tablets” for paid digital subscribers to the Inquirer
• Another new look for Philly.com, one that will include micro-sites dedicated to style and food
• A re-launch of the Daily News as a “loud, irreverent, fun tabloid”; one that will include a bold design, a two-page gossip spread, lots of food and dining features and a section that look at power in Philadelphia
• And remember ye old Neighbors’ sections? Yep, coming back to the Inquirer; first up—the Main Line, natch.

Will all this work? Will any of this work?

Couldn’t guess, but I hope so.

There’s a lot of talent at 401, and I’ve always rooted hard for the home team.

Here’s what I would say though. Amidst all the innovative rhetoric coming out of N. Broad Street these days, little seems to be said, at least for public consumption, about a commitment to great writing and reporting.

And, you know, that’s something that should be said, again and again.

Because, funny thing, nothing motivates reporters and editors more than a home that values great writing and editing.

And though a lot of people might like getting a new tabloid, everyone likes good writing.

As for the flatscreen monitors, I’d lobby to keep them right where they are.

They’ll come in mighty handy when the Phillies hit the playoffs.

Tim Whitaker (twhitaker@mightywriters.org) is the executive director of Mighty Writers, a nonprofit program that inspires city kids to write.