Monica Yant Kinney: “The Newspaper Industry Is Getting Smaller”

The Inky columnist leaves daily journalism for a job at Penn.

In yet another blow to the Inquirer’s editorial ranks, must-read metro columnist Monica Yant Kinney is leaving daily journalism for the Ivy-covered towers of Penn. Her last column will appear Sunday.

Kinney’s new title—try fitting this one in a headline—is executive director, communications and external relations, for Vice Provost of University Life Valarie Swain-Cade McCoullum.

As of January 7th, Kinney will oversee communications and shape strategy for non-academic student activities such as clubs, religious groups, and career placement, among others.

“It’s been a rough five, six, seven years,” says Kinney, 41, who joined the Inky in ’96 and began columnizing in ’01. “The reality is that the Inquirer is getting smaller, not bigger. The newspaper industry is getting smaller, not bigger. This is the right move at the right time for me.”

Penn, on the other hand, “is an incredible brand that is stable and growing,” she adds. “This job felt great, across the board. I got a great vibe from the people I talked to. All of them seemed to be happy.” (Easy to be happy when you’re not on the Titanic’s passenger list.)

Kinney, based out of Cherry Hill, says that taking a buyout “was 100 percent my decision. It’s safe to say it was a big surprise to everyone. I had the best job at the paper and it fit me like a glove. I loved every single minute of it.”

Kinney’s departure leaves the Inky with three metro columnists—four if you count Karen Heller, who appears Sundays in the op-ed section. Shockingly, Heller alone is based at the mothership. Daniel Rubin is temporarily dispatched to Montco; Annette John-Hall and Kevin Riordan are in Cherry Hill.

Kinney was among the first Inky reporters to dive into social media. She has 3,000-plus friends on Facebook and nearly that many Twitter followers. She never rejects a friend request, she says, and answers every email, post, tweet and phone call. Some columns generate more than 300 emails alone.

“I look at the column as a conversation with readers,” she says. “You don’t have any credibility with them if you just write a column and hide. If you put it out there, you have to be willing to talk about it in return. Some of my worst critics turned into really good sources.

“A lot of my colleagues disagree with that philosophy. I don’t believe we should have the last word. I don’t exist without the readers. If they leave a racist email, they get a call. If they leave an unprintable post, they get a response. It’s important to me to not just disappear.”

So important, in fact, that Kinney plans to devote all next week at the Inky to answering emails. “I didn’t want to leave and not let readers respond,” she explains. “After December 15th, they might send an email, and I won’t exist. Love me or hate me, these people write.”

Though she’s leaving behind 20 years of journalism, Kinney insists the disconnect will not be total.

“There are stories to tell all over that campus,” she says. “In my heart of hearts, I see myself as being involved in a kind of storytelling. I just won’t have a byline.”

Full disclosure: I worked at the Inquirer for 30 years, until 2009, and I teach at Penn.