How the Philadelphia media gets around during Pope's visit

While many people in the cities affected by the Pope's movements will be taking off, 8,000 journalists accredited to cover the Pope's visit to the United States this week will not.

That number includes many journalists based in Philadelphia, the last of the three cities on the Pope's visit to the United States. The city will host the Pope on Saturday and Sunday.

Members of the Philadelphia Parking Authority tow a car in a in preparation for Pope Francis's scheduled visit to the World Meeting of Families. Francis will parade down the Benjamin Franklin Parkway's outer lanes before the events. (AP Photo/Matt Rourke)
Members of the Philadelphia Parking Authority tow a car in a in preparation for Pope Francis's scheduled visit to the World Meeting of Families conference. Francis will parade down the Benjamin Franklin Parkway's outer lanes before the events. (AP Photo/Matt Rourke)
In preparation for the event, which could bring 1.5 to 2 million visitors into a very small geographic area, the city of Philadelphia is basically going into lockdown mode: major bridges and roads into the city are shutting down, and large fences are being erected around zones where the Pope will visit. Schools and universities are canceling classes. porta-potties are going up everywhere, and pregnant women have been told that if they go into labor, they might have to walk to a hospital.

No cars will be allowed in the secure zones, which encompass a large part of the city — including the buildings that house Philly's public radio station WHYY and the Philadelphia Inquirer, Daily News and Philly.com. (The latter three share a building.)

Which raises the question: how are Philly-based journalists going to get to work? Journalists from afar are likely staying at hotels, but at least some of Philly's journalists within commuting distance will navigate bridge closures, subway changes, and up to 2 million people simply to get into work.

As of late last week, the Newspaper Guild of Greater Philadelphia was still negotiating with management so they would not have to "spend 4 nights sleeping on an air mattress in the office building." They announced on Tuesday of this week that "divine intervention" may have played a role in allowing anyone covering the Pope for the Inquirer, Daily News or Philly.com to have a hotel room and access to "showers, soap — and a bed."

That's not the case for every Philadelphia-based journalist — I know of several in other newsrooms who are camping out in their offices or crashing on couches with colleagues.

At this point, I should tell you that I'm a Philly native and I used to work as a journalist in Philly. The Philadelphia journalism community is small and tight-knit, and nearly everybody knows each other. As the city gets ready for its two days in the spotlight, I reached out to some of my former colleagues and friends to find out how they plan to navigate the city during one of its biggest moments ever. Here's what they said:

Fresh Air with Terry Gross is taping the entire Friday show early.

"What's going to be crazy is anticipating the gates, fences, and metal detectors to just get within a block of the building. Communication is really confusing about the access points," said Danny Miller, co-executive producer of Fresh Air, which is located two blocks from Independence Hall, where the Pope plans to visit on Saturday.

"It's very unsexy, but we're putting the [entire] Friday show on tape and tracking it on Wednesday. We anticipate that it's likely unanticipated travel interruptions will occur, and we want to go home on Thursday knowing that if only a few of us can show up on Friday, we have the show ready.

"It's kind of like snowstorm planning. We'll likely be able to get in, but it might take a couple of hours. I'm planning to go into work on Saturday to prep Monday's show, and to do that, our security guy had to take up a list of people that are working on Saturday. He's going to give that list to the Secret Service. I just want to have Monday's show ready in case it takes two hours to get in."

Getting in from the suburbs or South Jersey is going to be really hard.

"Wish me luck. I need to get to work on Friday and Monday. I'm hoping to take the SEPTA Regional Rail train from Bala Cynwyd, which will be running on a limited weekend schedule," said Susan Greenbaum, senior producer, WHYY's RadioTimes, who lives near where the Pope is going to spend the night out in the suburbs."To complicate matters, two other train stations I could use will be impossible to get to as they are near the seminary where the Pope is staying. All roads near there will be blocked. And if I could get to them, parking spaces have been blocked off and are limited."

"I live in South Jersey and I plan to come in to Philly Friday morning on a PATCO train (regional rail) with enough clothes to stay for three nights," said Mike Topel, Executive Editor at Philly.com "I will head home again on Monday morning. I think you'd need to be one of the polecats from Mad Max: Fury Road to go back and forth to Jersey every day. I will be staying in a hotel near the office, thanks to Philadelphia Media Network [which owns the Inquirer, Daily News, and Philly.com]."

Most Philly press will miss the ONA this year.

"No Philly media is getting anywhere near ONA [the online journalism conference in L.A. this week] as far as I know. We are all camping out here for Pope-mania," said Erica Palan, social media and audience engagement for Philly.com, the Daily News, and the Philadelphia Inquirer. "Anyone who works in our building and can use the subway shouldn't have a problem since it stops at 8th Street inside our building. Before that, I was planning to walk the three miles from my house, which is totally do-able. (I've done it by choice in nice weather.) But I'm insanely lucky in that respect. Folks in the 'burbs and NJ have it harder."

The last time the Pope came, there wasn't a lot of security.

Men read police checkpoint signs posted ahead of the World Meeting of Families and Pope Francis's scheduled visit in Philadelphia.  (AP Photo/Matt Rourke)
Men read police checkpoint signs posted ahead of the World Meeting of Families and Pope Francis's scheduled visit in Philadelphia. (AP Photo/Matt Rourke)
"As a slight perspective, I was at the Daily News during the John Paul II visit [to Philadelphia] in 1979," said Robert Strauss, former Daily News reporter. "I lived in South Philadelphia, and the paper was on North Broad Street. I had a story one day at KYW, where Vatican radio was broadcasting. The next day, I had one at Liberty Bell Racetrack in the Northeast, where a horse named Pope was running. I drove everywhere and did not need any special dispensation. You can say 9/11 caused this crazy security, but 1979 was even closer in time to the Kennedy and King assassinations, not to mention during the Iran hostage crisis. Yet we were much freer to get around."

Billy Penn's staff is working from home.

"We're on the work-from-home plan starting later this week. Our reporters live close enough that if something major happens, we can get there pretty quickly," said Shannon Wink, community manager, Billy Penn, which has an office right by City Hall. "But we're not covering every single aspect of this thing because so many other people already are. We'll stick to our curation strategy, and that will allow us to tackle sidebar stories as they come up. But we're avoiding the office."

Some people are planning to walk for quite a bit to get to work.

"I'll be walking to SEPTA's Market-Frankford line from West Philly and taking it to 8th St. If that doesn't work out I'm on foot for about 45 blocks," said John Myers, associate producer, Fresh Air.

"I'll be out and about, biking and walking - I only live about three miles away," said Emily Guendelsberger, senior staff writers at Philadelphia City Paper.

"I live in the papal zone up by the art museum [and will be] walking 30 mins to work," said Diana Lind, Director of Digital Audience Development at the Philadelphia Inquirer, Daily News, and Philly.com. "It will be interesting on Saturday and Sunday." The Art Museum area is one of the places where the Pope plans to speak.

Some will bike away from the city center to be able to take the subway to work.

"I'm going to bike to the end of the Broad Street Line and then take the subway down. In a pinch, I'll write and edit from home," said Sam Wood, reporter/producer/editor at the Philly.com.

Some people will not be able to bike to work.

If the crowd that met the Pope at Andrews Air Force Base are indicative of the crowds he'll draw in Philadelphia it will be tough for the media to get around. (AP Photo/Susan Walsh)
If the crowd that met the Pope at Andrews Air Force Base are indicative of the crowds he'll draw in Philadelphia it will be tough for the media to get around. (AP Photo/Susan Walsh)
"I take a SEPTA regional rail train daily," said Eugene Sonn, audio news director, WHYY/Newsworks. It should be normal through Thursday and it's running a holiday schedule on Friday. This weekend I had to buy special Pope tickets. But I am staying over at the office Saturday night and possibly Sunday too … my reporters who normally bike in are making other plans for Saturday. We can't bring bikes inside the security perimeter.

"We have paired up staffers with colleagues willing to host someone for those who would have trouble getting in. I anticipate if unexpected delays keep people from coming in they will report on that...it's part of the story."

People are also getting up really, really early.

"I'm taking the train in on Saturday, staying on an air mattress in the office and walking to the Convention Center before dawn on Sunday to get there in time for a Secret Service screening," said Stephanie Farr, reporter, Philadelphia Daily News.

"I'm covering his landing in Philly on Saturday around 9:30 a.m.," said Bobby Allyn, general assignment reporter, Newsworks/WHYY. "I'm told to head to the convention center at 3 a.m. for security service screening. That's where I and other reporters will eventually be ferried to the airport. I can't exactly divine why it's necessary to begin the process six hours before the pontiff breezes in, but I'm not asking too many logistical questions, just following orders and hoping for the best. I have some other papal assignments too, fully anticipating that navigating to each destination will be a huge time-suck. Although there could be opportune moments, en route, to grab tape from frenzied pilgrims. Since I have to start work at three in the morning, ample sleep is probably not in the equation for me Friday."

They're going to eat a lot of frozen food.

"I'm staying at my cousin's within the perimeter (while she heads out of town) for the weekend so I can easily walk to work (though I'm anticipating walking out of the way and back over to avoid crowds),"said Neema Roshania, Newswork/WHYY's Northwest Philly editor who has been the project manager for coverage of the Pope visit.

"We couldn't get any of our normal caterers to confirm that they can deliver food to us so they ordered frozen food for us to eat over the weekend! I'm personally considering bringing in my waffle maker to start my own side hustle."

But optimism remains high.

"I live in South Philly, but close enough to Center City that I'll be walking to and from work while the Pope is in town," said Aaron Moselle, general assignment reporter, Newsworks/WHYY "I haven't thought about not being able to navigate. It may take me longer, but I've decided to be optimistic about my ability to get places."

 

 

  • Profile picture for user Melody Kramer

    Melody Kramer

    Mel leads audience growth and development for the Wikimedia Foundation and frequently works with journalism organizations on projects related to audience development, engagement, and analytics.

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