Bill Marimow will take new approach to old job as Philadelphia Inquirer editor

Bill Marimow says his demotion in 2010 from Philadelphia Inquirer editor to reporter was “revelatory” because it allowed him to return full-time to reporting, the job for which he won Pulitzer prizes in the ’70s and ’80s. Yesterday Greg Osberg, who asked Marimow to step down then, brought him back as editor of The Philadelphia Inquirer. Marimow will replace Stan Wischnowski, who replaced him two years ago and will remain with the paper. Osberg, Marimow told me by phone, always “treated me with dignity and respect.”

When Marimow was demoted, the news organization had just been purchased by Philadelphia Media Network, which was owned mostly by private equity firms; on Monday a group of Philadelphia-area machers bought the papers back. Having local ownership, Marimow says, will make all the difference.

“If you’re gonna have a news organization you’re proud of,” Marimow says, “You’re going to have to care about the staff.” Local ownership he says, will be concerned about the well-being of everyone from “the rookie reporter covering police” to drivers. The comfort of those people will manifest itself as must-read journalism. “I think when you have content online and in print that is indispensable,” he says, “you’re also laying the foundation for a viable business.”

Making such content daily is a much different business, though, than it was even two years ago. Marimow, 64, says his time at the Cronkite School of Journalism at Arizona State University, where the “faculty is steeped in the most up-to-date online journalism,” has helped him rethink how he’ll cover news at The Inquirer.

He says he’s “not totally up to speed” on issues that will rise from combining the three newsrooms or those involving layoffs.

Yesterday two of the papers’ new owners, George Norcross and Lewis Katz, told me they weren’t planning any more layoffs immediately and would be investing up to $10 million dollars in “working capital” in the papers, money Norcross said could conceivably be used to hire people.

His new position, Marimow says, was arranged over two days preceding Wednesday’s announcement. ”This all came together very quickly,” Marimow says, adding that when he gets to Philadelphia, he’ll sit down with every staffer to learn about their concerns.

I asked Marimow what he learned at Cronkite that he’ll bring to Philadelphia: “It’s obvious to me that to be successful in this era you have to be committed to excellence in every platform available,” he says.

During former Pennsylvania state Sen. Vincent Fumo’s corruption trial, Marimow says, “we sent three people to the courtroom every day”: A blogger, someone to write a “definitive” daily story, another to look for an enterprise angle. “If I were doing that today,” he says, “there would be a videographer there around the clock; there might even be two bloggers.” Of the Internet, he says, “I considered it evolution when I joined the Inquirer back in 2006; it’s now revolution.”

He does have a Twitter account, he points out. “I’m not tweeting incessantly,” he says. I asked him if he plans to step up such activity: “The first thing I have to do is get back to Philadelphia.”

Marimow begins his new job May 1; he will head to the newsroom to talk with staff next week.

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