Details of the Inquirer’s Newsroom Shake-up

Can you rid an old folks' home of old folks?

The latest newsroom upheaval at the Inquirer has put most of the staff in a foul mood, but at least one of those affected appears to be taking it in stride. (Full disclosure: I worked at the Inquirer for 30 years, until 2009.)

Theater critic Howard Shapiro, a 10-year veteran of the beat and an Inky employee since 1970, says his sudden re-assignment to the South Jersey bureau in Cherry Hill was not a total surprise.

“Nothing surprises me about newspapers these days,” says Shapiro, 64, who starts his new gig later this month. “The unexpected may happen, but it’s not exactly a surprise.”

What does surprise Shapiro is that he won’t be replaced, leaving the region’s vibrant theater scene—which includes more than 50 professional stages—without a full-time critic. Freelancers will continue to fill the gap.

Theater deserves full-time staff coverage “because it has an enormous audience here,” Shapiro says. “The theater community is just bursting.”

More than a dozen veteran Inquirer reporters and editors, all 50-plus, are expected to be re-assigned under management’s new mandate to “dramatically” beef up business news and coverage of South Jersey and the Pennsylvania suburbs. They got the word this week.

Shapiro isn’t the only shocker. Projects editor Kathy Hacker, 62, long considered one of the Inky’s few outstanding line editors, is being exiled to South Jersey—to write obits. Smart money says this one will end up being handled by lawyers.

Shocker 3: Battle-tested religion reporter David O’Reilly is headed to South Jersey, too, and religion will be dissolved as a full-time beat. (That pew-shaking “Hallelujah!” you hear is coming from the Archdiocese of Philadelphia.)

Shocker 4: Amy Rosenberg, who for years covered the Jersey Shore from her home in Ventnor, will join the city desk as a reporter. Still in Ventnor, she was most recently assigned to the features department.

Also South Jersey–bound are suburban reporters Kathy Boccella, Bonnie Cook, Rita Giordano and Dan Hardy. Boccella will cover Cherry Hill cops; Cook, federal courts in Camden; Giordano, schools; and Hardy, townships.

As for who will fill the soon-to-be gaping hole in the ‘burbs, features writer Carolyn Davis will move over to Montgomery County. Other players to be named later. Obit writer Walter Naedele has been re-assigned to Chester County.

Some see management’s moves as an attempt to target older (expensive) staffers in hopes they will leave, to then be replaced by younger, cheaper workers. The problem with the first part of that theory is that the entire newsroom skews older.

“It’s like an old folks’ home here,” says a veteran editor, speaking on condition of anonymity. “I can’t see anybody here who’s not grey, unless they dye their hair.”

No one, however, disputes the second part of the equation. Says another vet, also speaking anonymously: “They’re just moving bodies, trying to get people to quit. As a group, I don’t see any other explanation. Why take one of the best editors of the paper and move her to another state to write obits?”

As if the newsroom doesn’t have enough problems, the mega-bucks new publishing system, Saxotech, has been such a disaster that the Inky has gone back to its old system while it looks to replace Saxotech. This one’s got “billable hours” written all over it.