Merging Daily News, Inquirer Newsrooms Would Be Dumb
The first day I walked into the newsroom at the Daily News, one of the editors pulled me aside to share an insight on the very soul of the tabloid that lives perpetually on death row.
“Our job,” she told me, “is to get to the emotional heart of every story.”
In doing that, of course, we got to the emotional heart of the city.
I spent nearly a decade at the paper in the 1990s directing local news coverage, trying to get at that emotional heart, and doing everything I knew how to beat the bejesus out of Big Sister who then lived downstairs at the old headquarters at 400 North Broad Street.
This is all on my mind, and in my heart, these days because of an interview on this website with a man who has been named the new publisher of both the Inquirer and the Daily News, Terry Egger.
Philly Mag interviewed the new guy — who has been at newspapers in St. Louis and Cleveland — and this is the part that is disturbing for long-time Daily News fans:
“Can we afford some of the inefficiencies that are inherent in having three entirely separate newsrooms?”
That would be the Inquirer newsroom, the Daily News newsroom, and the newsroom at Philly.com.
The interview suggests that there could be a consolidated newsroom, although no decisions have been made yet.
Frankly, the thought is tone deaf and ignores the history and traditions of the two newspapers.
I’m willing to bet, for instance, that nobody in the Inquirer newsroom ever said his/her job was to go after the emotional heart of a story.
By way of example, I recall a story — actually a series of stories — during my time at the Daily News, about a guy who faked the drowning of his wife in the family bathtub.
Tough to beat a murder at a good address, and this place was on the Main Line.
A day or two after the slaying, I got a call from a woman who reported to us that, “You should check this guy out. He’s in love with a stripper named Summer.”
I told one of our best reporters to run, not walk, to the strip club where she performed. He found her, interviewed her, and I still remember the front page the next day: a big sexy picture of Summer, with the headline, “Season’s Greetings.”
That story dominated our front page for 12-straight days: “Main Line Mystery,” and “Hubby’s Little Secret” among them.
Talk about the emotional heart of a story. The other guys didn’t have the stripper angle, and a few of them told me later, “You guys have such great sources.” I didn’t tell them then that it was a random phone call from a woman whose daughter was a waitress at the club.
Or how about the time that John Stanfa was said by cops to be the new head of the mob in Philadelphia?
We wondered how the local godfather could not have a nickname, following in the great tradition of, say, Chicken Man Testa.
So we did what only the Daily News would do — we ran a contest called “Name that Don.” The prize was a boxed set of the Godfather movie trilogy. (Frankly, I don’t recall the winning nickname from this distance.)
Listen, Mr. Eggers. I could go on and on, and if you want more, just ask.
The point is this — the Daily News does what it does like nobody else. And just in case you’re tempted to think that none of it is about public policy things, as opposed to dead wives in the bathtub, check out the Pulitzer-winning work of the superb Barbara Laker and Wendy Ruderman.
I supervised Laker when I was there, and the woman knows no fear — she went into so many lousy neighborhoods for stories that we bought her a bullet-proof vest.
That’s guts. On the job. On the streets.
Treating the two papers as though they are interchangeable parts is, in a word, dumb.
Don’t do it.
(Warner was an assigning editor at the Daily News for most of the 1990s, first as deputy city editor and then city editor.)