Thursday, April 17, 2014
Inquirer Daily News

Billy, we hardly knew ye

Billy, we hardly knew ye

Rich Hoffman has a must-read column on the monstrous allegations against former Daily News sports columnist Bill Conlin, and it does its best to answer a question that a lot of people outside of 400 North Broad Street have legitimately asked, which is why the DN's sports department has not weighed in so far on their ex-colleague:

They are the important people here. But to work in the Daily News sports department is to experience this uniquely, and maybe not as an outsider might expect. Because before all of this happened, Conlin really was an island, alone both in his enormous talent and in reality. And while it is true most sports writers are notoriously office-phobic, it remains a fact that most of the Daily News staff members have never once seen Conlin in person.

A co-worker asked me the other day whether I had called Conlin, and I replied I had not. I thought about it for a second and could not remember ever having spoken to Conlin on the telephone - and the number of emails we have traded over the years probably can be counted on one hand. I asked my co-worker, who has been at the Daily News for about 25 years. He, too, could not remember ever speaking to Conlin on the phone.

Which doesn't mean we didn't talk when we saw each other, because we did - once a year, twice a year, for a couple of minutes. I met him when I was 22, and our relationship stayed the same over 3 decades: He told the jokes, and I laughed at them. It was just easier that way. Assigned to cover the ceremony honoring him last summer at the Baseball Hall of Fame, I enjoyed listening to him tell some of the old stories, surrounded by family members and a few old friends.

But there was no great closeness, and there wasn't between Conlin and just about everyone at the Daily News. He was that isolated. He burned bridges with some and ignored most of the rest, and that's just the way it was.

This is information that the public should have, and yet it's complicated to get out there. In my opinion, there are two things about Bill Conlin and the Daily News that matter. One is that looking back, the acknowledgment that what he is accused of doing -- and nothing has really undercut the published allegations -- is depravity on a horrific level, and as Hoffman writes, nothing will ever trump our sadness and sympathy for those who've come forward. Looking ahead, the paper needs to continue to be more aggressive than any other news outlet (including the Inquirer) in uncovering other alleged crimes by Conlin or anyone who enabled them, and also go above and beyond normal journalistic practices of openness and transparency.

So one of the points that Hoffman puts out there today is that even to people in the sports department at the Daily News, the wirelessly connected Conlin was not a friend or a trusted colleague but a virtual stranger who happened to be a public figure. (On the city desk, the number of contacts my long-time colleagues have had with Conlin is typically "zero," including me personally, and maybe "one" in a couple cases.) For more than 90-95 percent of people in this newsroom, Conlin was as well-known as...Jerry Sandusky. It's a bizarre thing. Think of your workplace -- a police precinct house or a hospital or a plumbing supply company. There's probably someone who's "the public face" of your outfit the way that Conlin was the "public face" of the Daily News. It's probably someone you work with 40 or more hours a week, not a total stranger. Such is the odd situation that can occur in the computer age with "the wonders" of our disconnected workplace, which is maybe a metaphor for modern society itself.

Is that relevant information? Yes and no. It's not nearly as important as the things mentioned two paragraphs above, but a lot of people are asking questions about the institution of the Daily News, and the ways that the Conlin scandal is either similar to or different from situations at Penn State, the Catholic Church, and elsewhere. This may help readers answer some of those questions...for now.

If the Daily News rises to the occasion, and (in my biased opinion) it almost always has in the 16 1/2 years that I've worked here, you'll get even more answers to your questions in the weeks ahead. Because people deserve answers.

About this blog

Will Bunch
Also on Philly.com
Stay Connected