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Summary:

Although many other U.S. newspapers have shrunk, the Philadelphia Inquirer has suffered more than most. Will Steacy, whose father was laid off from the paper in 2011, has put together a photo essay showing its decline.

inquirer-newsroom-cropped
photo: Will Steacy

Newspapers were very much in the news this week, in the wake of the Boston bombings and the manhunt for the escaped suspect: many cheered the news coverage of the Boston Globe, in part because of the paper’s shrunken newsroom and the fact that it is up for sale. There are many other newspapers suffering the same fate, including the Philadelphia Inquirer, which went bankrupt in 2009 and was sold last year for $55 million — or about 50 percent less than it sold for in 2010 and more than 85 percent below what it sold for in 2006.

Photographer Will Steacy has released a somewhat painful photo essay that shows the paper’s dramatic decline. As Wired magazine describes, Steacy’s father worked at the Inquirer for almost 30 years until he and many others were downsized. The shrinking of the Inquirer‘s staff was just a microcosm of the much larger decline of the U.S. newspaper industry as a whole, with the number of full-time media employees now at its lowest level since 1978.

Inquirer newsroom

After its bankruptcy, The Inquirer moved its newsroom from the massive, 87-year-old, 526,000-square-foot headquarters known as the “Tower of Truth” in downtown Philadelphia to a single floor of a former department store near Chinatown. Steacy took photos of both the old newsroom and the new — and of everything in between, including most of the remaining staff, the paper’s old printers and the cluttered desks of various editors and reporters.

Inquirer newsroom1

The new Inquirer newsroom looks like somewhere a high-school paper would be produced, not a newspaper that serves a city of 1.5 million. And Steacy tells Wired that when his father was laid off in 2011, he actually had to put the project on hold because it became too emotional for him. He believes — as many do — that the future of journalism is a question mark as great newspapers like the Inquirer continue to be downsized or even go bankrupt. As he puts it:

“The internet, for lack of a better metaphor, makes up the branches of the tree. But newspapers have centuries-long traditions of being the roots of the tree. If the roots of tree rot and crumble the rest of the tree will fall with it.”

Inquirer newsroom2

Photos courtesy of Will Steacy

  1. My dad started life as a sports reporter. Then he moved to radio sports [with Red Barber]. His middle years were spent at CBS sports. And, his senior years were spent on a weekly newspaper he founded and published in Pinellas Park, Florida. You might say he went full circle. I think he always liked the print media best and would be broken hearted if he were alive today to see the shrinking and demise of so many newspapers. And while he authored many opinionated editorials, he would be appalled to see how much political bias has appeared in what should be straight objective reporting of the news.

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  2. Mathew, perhaps the definition of a “great” news organization has changed.

    I have no doubt that the employees of most bankrupt newspapers believe that it’s a big loss to the community. However, it seems that the people in the community don’t share that belief. Demand shifted, some newspapers failed to adapt.

    Some journalists blame the lowering of standards for the decline of their employer. Prior customers of the newspaper are likely to point to their higher expectations for quality reporting that weren’t being fulfilled.

    Change is good. Progress requires change. Perhaps the better metaphor for a bankrupt newspaper is “Darwin was right about why some survive, while others perish.”

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  3. arjun moorthy Monday, April 22, 2013

    David Deans above says it well about customers not caring about the decline of newspapers. I think this points to the newspaper as being less impressive than its employees like to believe.

    Daily newspapers had become enormous with lots of weak articles mixed with a few great examples of journalism. This was partly to have more advertising pages. But that disappointed readers and they looked elsewhere for their news.

    If newspapers only published quality and focused for specific reader personas they’d get a small loyal following willing to pay a subscription fee. This is in essence what blogs have done but the quality & independence isn’t always there with blogs. As an example, GigaOm is a blog that I as a tech executive would pay for annually. And I remain a paying subscriber to the New Yorker and Bloomberg magazines – both which cater to specific personas.

    Not sure if once all these paid blogs rolled up would equal the revenue of the old newspaper industry. Probably not as the ad stream must reduce to some degree. But perhaps we’ll have something better in the end.

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  4. Martin Focazio Monday, April 22, 2013

    “The internet, for lack of a better metaphor, makes up the branches of the tree. But newspapers have centuries-long traditions of being the roots of the tree. If the roots of tree rot and crumble the rest of the tree will fall with it.”

    How self-aggrandizing. I was in the newsroom of another news organization last week – an organization that went digital-only after decades of print. Their newsroom looked like a cross between a TV studio and a trading floor, with a bit of college commons thrown in for good measure. It wasn’t a vast room of typing stations – every desk was a media production center, effortlessly creating media to suit the needs of the story. The room was crackling with energy as the Boston events played out. The people there were not sitting and getting emotional about the disruptive changes to their business – they were thinking about scores of new ideas to connect with their markets, to deliver great work and to evolve their business. Objective journalism is alive and well in plenty of places – just not at organizations that elevate themselves to some kind of sacrosanct institution that relies on old technology and must be immunized from market forces. Yes, there’s plenty of biased crap out there, there always was and there always will be, that the nature of the news business.

    In the end, our shift to a culture of ambient broadband is now past a tipping point and there are now business models that were unworkable just a few years ago coming to market – and these can and will generate revenue and operating margins that will allow for more and better digital journalism.

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    1. Dionne N. Walker Wednesday, April 24, 2013

      “How self-aggrandizing.”

      That’s the exact phrase I’ve been grasping for this entire time to describe this!

      Journalists definitely have this really melodramatic tale of how great their publications were and how iconic their buildings are, etc. etc. blah blah.

      The reality is simple: You have always been making a product for a consumer. When the consumer no longer wants the product, you either make something new or slowly crumble.
      Roll or get rolled over. This is very simple in other industries; I don’t think anybody did any wistful photo galleries when rotary phone manufacturing plants closed up. The difference here is that many print journalists have bought their own hype and truly believe they are bigger than their audience. They know better.

      Ironically, this ego is speeding the decline.

      – Former AP reporter

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  5. That’s my hometown paper (I’m now in Central NY). I toured the beautiful building of the Inky a few years back when there were whispers of the sale. It is heartbreaking and just seems wrong. Thanks to you & Steacy for the photos.

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  6. “It’s over. Today, newspaper buildings designed by some of world’s greatest architects are being abandoned or sold. Surviving properties are valued more for their real estate than their public purpose. Economics favor tearing them down for parking lots or converting them into condos.”

    See “As news cathedrals fall, an unfinished architecture” at http://wemedia.com/2013/02/07/as-news-cathedrals-fall-an-unfinished-architecture/

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