How Bill Marimow Might Change the Inquirer Newsroom

A cocktail of stressed reporters and speculation awaits.

With Bill Marimow about to begin his third hitch at the Inquirer—his second as editor—the newsroom is abuzz with speculation about how his return will affect the masthead hierarchy.

Full disclosure: I left the Inquirer after 30 years in 2009, during Marimow’s second term. To be diplomatic, it was not a pleasant departure.

Marimow, who landed at Arizona State after getting demoted by former ownership, will be in town this week to meet with an emotionally exhausted staff. How exhausted? On a stress index of one to 10, the newsroom average is hovering at nine, according to a veteran Inky reporter.

Here’s why, in no particular order: New owners, again. New, smaller headquarters, as of July. New combined staff with the Daily News and New publishing system, created in Denmark. New round of expected layoffs, despite denials from new owners. New editor from the old school.

Taken individually, any one of those stressors could flatten a news organization on the brink. Put together all six and it’s time to order Xanax dispensers for the water coolers. Make mine a double.

As of this moment, much of the newsroom anxiety is focused on possible cabinet changes after Marimow takes over May 1st. He said last week that Stan Wischnowski, his predecessor and successor, would stick around as one of his top deputies.

The management styles of Wischnowski and Marimow are polar opposites, which has some Inky staffers concerned.

By all accounts, Wischnowski is a true collaborator. He seeks coworkers’ counsel—and takes it seriously—before making a decision. He is open to change. Marimow, on the other hand, tends to keep his own counsel. Once he makes a decision, it’s buried in concrete. As a manager, this has been his Achilles’ heel.

If you are in the warm glow of Marimow’s orbit, you will be seen and protected. If you are not, your existence holds no particular meaning. There is no middle ground. The same was said about legendary Inky editor Gene Roberts. Like Roberts, Marimow’s comfort zone is limited to an anointed group of acolytes, predominantly male.

Depending on how Wischnowski’s duties are defined in the Inky’s “back to the future” incarnation, one conspiracy theory making the rounds has investigations editor Mike Leary returning to his role as Marimow’s hatchet man, or, in journalistic terms, managing editor.

Such a move would require a major attitude adjustment on Leary’s part. In his current post (a demotion under previous owners), he is said to have shed the prickly veneer that had served him so well as Marimow’s Bad Cop.

If Leary gets upped, newsroom odds say he’ll share the title with current managing editor Michael Days. Editorial page editor Harold Jackson is also expected to stick. No betting line yet on the troika of deputy managing editors—Sandra Clark, Tom McNamara and Avery Rome.

As a newsman, Marimow’s moral authority is beyond question. As a manager, the same cannot be said. This time around, both will determine his legacy.