Rendell, Bissinger added as Philly Daily News columnists
Philadelphia Media Network release
The owners of Philly's dailies announced today:
* The Inquirer's A section will have more local and original content;
* Buzz Bissinger will serve as Daily News editorial advisor and occasional guest columnist;
* Former Pennsylvania Governor Ed Rendell will have a weekly Daily News sports column; and
* The Daily News cover tagline will change from The People Paper to The People's Paper.
Memo to Philadelphia Daily News staff from editor Larry Platt
TO: The Staff
DATE: January 31, 2011
RE: The New Daily News
First, let me take this opportunity to thank Michael Days for his graciousness during this transition, and for his many years of leadership at the Daily News. I also want to thank all of those who sent me ideas, comments and concerns these past couple of weeks, as a precursor to our one-on-one meetings, which we’ll start this week. (If you haven’t introduced yourself in an email and told me what you think should change around here and what by no means should change, please do.) I have to say, I was blown away by your passion for this place, and impressed by how many great ideas came flying at me.
As I said before asking for your input, making the Daily News a must-read for all of Philadelphia, turning our pages into a place where many different Philadelphias meet, argue and ultimately try and live together, is going to be a process we embark upon together. I’ve already heard many ideas from you that I’d like to start implementing as soon as possible. In general, let me be clear about the journey we’re about to take: the times demand that, together, we reinvent ourselves. We’re going to be a laboratory of innovation and experimentation.
What follows is a list of some things we’re going to do right away. Some require a change in attitude or philosophy; others are announcements of new content that hopefully will enlighten, entertain and make readers think. Here goes:
I hereby free you from the tyranny of the Inverted Pyramid. When I first picked up the Daily News as an awkward adolescent on the outskirts of this city some (oy) 35 years ago, the Daily News spoke to me because of its palpable passion; this paper has always been all heart. We will continue to report the hell out of our city, in keeping with the highest standards of accuracy and fairness, but you should also not be afraid to have a point of view about what you report. Our pages should never be home to “he said/she said” neutrality. Instead, you will be explicit adjudicators of factual disputes, and you’ll be free to draw conclusions from your reporting. And you’ll be encouraged to write with wit and verve and attitude.
We won’t be predictably partisan, however. We’ll call it like we see it, without allegiance to one side or another. Our ideology will reside in our commitment to our reader. Consequently, tomorrow, we’ll be changing our tag line from “The People Paper” to “The People’s Paper,” in order to underscore our populist mindset. Our tone should be wiseass reformist; crusading, but careful not to take ourselves too seriously, lest we morph into self-righteousness. We’ll be for honesty, openness, and fairness; we’ll be against corruption, exploitation, and abuse of power. We’ll celebrate that which merits celebration and call out that which needs fixing.
Because we’re going to be pushing boundaries, it’s important that we remain at all times introspective and thoughtful. Consequently, I’m pleased to announce that legendary Daily News alum and Pulitzer Prize winner Richard Aregood has agreed to pen a monthly Public Editor column in our pages. Rich, now a journalism professor, will have the independence to criticize us and our decisions in our pages. I’ve told him I want him to hold us accountable and he and he alone will determine his content.
I’m also honored to announce that another Pulitzer Prize winner, best-selling author Buzz Bissinger, will serve as an editorial advisor and occasional columnist in our pages. I’ve known Buzz for nearly twenty years; he’s passionate and inspiring and often outraged. I plan on having some regular big-picture brainstorming sessions, often with Buzz in attendance. Yes, he cut his teeth at the Inquirer, and, until recently, penned a column for our sister publication. But Buzz is excited about what we’re doing here and his is a voice our city desperately needs.
Speaking of loud voices, I also want to welcome our new sports columnist, none other than Ed Rendell. Some fifteen years ago, I sat with Rendell in the mayor’s box at Veterans Stadium while the Eagles waged a furious on-field comeback. He stood up, hoagie innards spewing from his mouth, while he pounded the plexiglas separating his box from that of new owner Jeffrey Lurie, trying to get Lurie and his nonplussed guests to join him in full-throated cheer. Lurie placidly kept his eyes glued to the field. Finally, waving in disgust, Rendell returned to his seat, saying, “This is the football box; that’s the quiche-eaters’ box.” As we know, none of that passion has waned in the intervening years. I look forward to our Fan-In-Chief surprising and amusing us in print every week, starting this Wednesday.
A couple of weeks ago, some of you were eager to hear about my priorities. Well, they’re still evolving, enriched already by your ideas. Broadly, here’s the way I see it: In addition to our mainstays of sports and investigative reporting, I think we should think of our content mission as existing under three primary rubrics: Power, People and Gossip.
In covering Power, the Daily News should report from street level, poking the reader in the ribs and telling him or her how things really do or don’t get done in this city. Philadelphia is a town that is run for and by the same group of 300 insiders. We have an obligation to provide a road map for our readers as to how the transactional nature of our town can conspire against the common good. And we can do that in an entertaining way that holds the usual suspects accountable. Power, in this sense, ought to be broadly defined. It encompasses covering those who are wielding influence – be it in politics, non-profits, business or media – or who we think ought to be wielding influence. And our coverage of it should utilize all the amino acids of storytelling available to us – deep reporting, point of view, compelling photos, charts and graphs.
When I talk about covering People, I mean that the Daily News should be in the business of anointing the luminaries of Philadelphia. That includes writing profiles of the characters who are making a difference, but there are countless ways to chronicle those who make our city unique: small blurbs, gossip items, charts, photos, Q & A’s. We can sometimes lose sight of this self-evident signpost: people want to read about people. After all, there are fascinating people out there doing wonderful work few have heard about – until we write about them.
Categories like Power, People and Gossip are, of course, purposefully expansive, because I’m not laying down immutable dictums so much as jumpstarting a process of reexamining our priorities. But there are some concrete things we can do right away, which I’ll want to begin exploring this week. Call it packaging; the fact is we now compete for our reader’s time and attention with everything from blogs to magazines to reality TV, which makes seducing the reader into our publication arguably our most pressing mandate. Headlines, subheads, pull quotes, big stunning photos, a front page that absolutely refuses to be ignored – these are opportunities to, yes, manipulate the reader into losing him or herself in our pages.
I find it liberating that we’re not Philadelphia’s paper of record. If you don’t have to cover everything, you can actually cover anything. You can let your passion guide you. In other words, we are free to focus on giving our readers what they can’t get anywhere else, which is a service to them -- while setting us apart from the pack. I don’t want to fall into the trap of feeling like we have to cover what the Inquirer covers. In fact, I want any Inquirer reader who picks up the Daily News to viscerally feel that he or she has had a totally different experience.
Finally, a word about our bigger mission. You’re no longer in the newspaper business; we are, instead, in the Town Square business. We provide the last bastion of community in an ever-fractured world, and we touch the members of our community in myriad ways: via print, the web, apps, events, and other media outlets. What we do – what you do -- is vital.
So we have to look at things differently than in the past. I’m not a big rules guy, but there’s one phrase we need to ban: “But we’ve never done that before.” Rethinking what we do ought to be exciting. And, in a sense, that spirit of adventure is in keeping with the inspiring history of this very place. In our pages, Bill Conlin reinvented the baseball game story, Zack Stalberg caught a mayor in a bald-faced lie, Pete Dexter gave voice to the voiceless, Chuck Stone relentlessly spoke truth to power, and Wendy Ruderman and Barbara Laker fearlessly exposed abuses of power. None of these journalistic tree-shakers were blindly wedded to formula or Columbia Journalism Review rules. They were all heart, like a great city tabloid has to be. They had the arrogance to trust their collective gut – again, just like a great tabloid. They told the stories of their times and let the chips fall where they may -- which is, in its own way, very brave.
Of course, most of the aforementioned groundbreaking work was done long ago. It’s now time for a new generation of storytellers to leave its mark on this town. So I want this missive to spur internal conversation; our hallways should teem with talk of who we are and who we want to be, and my door will always be open for anything, including kicking this kind of stuff around. So stop by. Tell me what you think. Hit me with ideas. Think big. And let’s go out and change this fascinating, quirky, and maddening city.