Photos of Philadelphia Inquirer newsroom show challenges, determination

WillSteacy.com | Wired

Photographer Will Steacy grew up in a family of newspapermen, so his latest project has special resonance with journalists struggling with the progression from print to digital media. The son of former Philadelphia Inquirer national/foreign editor Tom Steacy, the writer and artist four years ago decided to start shooting the metamorphosis of that newspaper, as depicted in his completed photo essay, Deadline.

Courtesy Will Steacy

The project focuses on the cutbacks and layoffs brought on by the Inquirer’s circulation declines, numerous ownership changes and 2009 bankruptcy, as illustrated by the paper’s move from its 87-year-old Tower of Truth at 400 N Broad to the third floor of a former Strawbridge’s department store on Market Street near Chinatown. The essay even includes images memorializing Steacy’s father’s empty desk after he was laid off in 2011.

Wired’s Jakob Schiller writes the project not only illustrates the whittling away of print journalism as a whole but serves as a fitting tribute to a great institution caught in flux:

In some ways the photos are utterly depressing. Many focus on the banal carnage that takes place as a result of layoffs and cutbacks. On the other hand, the series is also a beautiful kind of remembrance. The series is filled with portraits of the reporters and editors who over the years helped the paper win 19 Pulitzers — the most recent in 2012 for reporting on rampant school violence. Steacy says about half the people he photographed no longer work at the paper.

I worked at 400 N Broad for more than four years in a variety of roles in news, features and sports, and must say the images are spectacular representations of the challenges the newsroom faced even back when I left in 2006. The fact that group, even with dwindling resources and a shrinking staff, won a Pulitzer in 2012 for reporting on school violence speaks volumes about their character in the face of such challenges.

Moreover, Steacy says, the essay reflects the greater concerns of an unwelcome trend of downsizing in newsrooms nationwide. From his project statement:

By recording the everyday moments of progression and change at The Philadelphia Inquirer, my aim is to reveal a portrait of the evolution of the American newspaper industry within the larger context of the current economic issues plaguing our country. The newspaper for centuries has served as a cornerstone of American society holding our country’s institutions, CEOs, politicians and big businesses accountable for their actions, upholding the values, laws and morals that our democracy was founded upon. I am interested in how the dramatic shift in technology and the dissemination of information on the Internet will not only impact the newspaper business but American society as a whole. … As the downward spiral of a troubled industry unravels before our eyes, it is a matter of great personal significance. As we lose reporters, editors, newsbeats and sections of papers, we lose coverage, information, and a connection to our cities and our society, and, in the end, we lose ourselves.

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