A lot of gatherings these days along the rail that overlooks the cavernous newsroom. A religion writer catches your eye, tells you he's leaving. Hes thinking about non-profit work, he says. Something totally different.
Your editor tells you the same thing. Taking the buyout, rewriting Act Two while he can. Others have talked about joining the Peace Corps, or retiring early to try blogging, for Gods sake. A lot of people are suddenly looking younger.
Were saying goodbye to 75 journalists 15 percent of the 506 positions we have at the Inquirer. The Daily News is losing 25 of its 130 newsroom jobs thats 19 percent. Its not clear whether this publicly held corporation will have to lay off anyone to meet its numbers, but the place where one gets ones buyout papers is doing land-office business. Were more than two thirds of the way there with five days to go.
Thats a lot of sheet cake, a lot of farewell newspaper pages to make up. Or maybe the people will pack up overnight and slip away, and a year from now, I'll ask "Where is Huntly Collins?" Oh yeah, she took the last buyout, but I was in Berlin, and never got the memo. I'll do my best to get lost in the work this week. I can't watch.
You could put out the best newspaper in America with the people we've helped walk out the door over the 17 years Ive been here. I think we once did.
The process is nearly done. Editors talk over new assignments with reporters behind closed doors. We strain to read the faces. Were having so many meetings its a wonder we can get the paper out. But we do. The Inquirer knows it has to take the opportunity to re-invent itself. We must figure out who we are and what we do best, and do it now.
Theres been a chain of emails going around about the future of these papers, prompted by Will Bunch two-fisted piece in the Daily News blog Attytood.
Much of the blame really lies with us, as journalists. We have, for the most part, allowed our product to become humorless and dull. In an era when it seems most people truly will be famous for 15 minutes, newspapers have stubbornly avoided creating personalities...or having a personality, for that matter. In a pathologically obsessive quest for two false goddesses named Objectivity and Balance we have completely ceded the great American political debate to talk radio, cable TV and the Internet, where people have learned that politics is actually interesting and even fun when people are allowed to take sides.
I thought Id open this up for conversation. If you have some thoughts, please comment here. You've got a stake. It's your paper.
We hosted a group of bloggers at the Inquirer last week. They pulled no punches in criticizing the paper, both at the session, afterward in emails.
Duncan Black, who writes under the name Atrios, suggested expanding home delivery of the Daily News across the suburbs.
Susie Madrak of Suburban Guerrilla suggested putting all the political reporters in the suburbs, and leaving the city to our sister tabloid or the wires. If we're cutting reporters, enliven the op-ed pages, she recommended.
She asked her readers what theyd do if they ran the paper. The answers, here, make brutal reading for reporters at the Inquirer. But they should be read.
What would you do?
At a time when our newsroom reminds me what of the end of July at camp, when the station wagons would pull up for the kids staying only half the summer its good to see someone pumped about the future. I just saw a conference filled with people like that.
I spent three days in San Jose, Ca, at the Associated Press Managing Editors annual meeting. They hand awards for great work and hold workshops, doing much of their business in the hallways and in the bar. I talked about blogging whats working and whats not working with my experiment here at Blinq.
I went to every online session I could, and thought I would post a little show and tell.
Scariest stuff first. It was a quick movie called EPIC 2015. Ken Sands, online publisher of the Spokane, (WA) Spokesman-Review, opened his talk with this three-minute cautionary tale that tells us how we got the press-less mediascape of a decade from now.
After recalling the Webs creation in 1989, then the birth of Amazon and Google, and blogging software, it ventures into the near future, when Microsoft does battle with the merged Googlezon, when people take individually tailored news and advertising, based on their interests and habits or what their friends and colleagues read.
The New York Times becomes print-only for its small audience of the well-off and the elderly.
But Sands was not there for eulogies.
He sees the Web as the salvation of newspapers, and showed some of the work going on that gives hope, experiments in video at his own paper, that documented moments like a girl's first day in kindergarten, the day two moose got loose in downtown Spokane. Here in Philly, I think they would have shot them.
The message I came away with was: Use your army of 400-plus journalists to beat the local television and radio stations to the punch, create "a culture of urgency" online, post sound and video and cherish the freedom of being able to offer longer, more in-depth pieces that commercial considerations have scared electronic media from offering.
The story now is citizen participation giving the audience a say in whats going on. They examples are blazing across the country, from Bakersfield, Ca., to Greensboro, N.C., Brattleboro, Vt., to Denver, Co.
Spokane has selected eight readers to weigh in on what the paper is doing right and wrong in a page called News Is A Conversation. It also has a page that features and links to more than a dozen local bloggers.
In Denver, Yourhub.com has taken off 42 different Web sites that once a week are harvested for a tabloid version that wraps around both the Rocky Mountain News and the Denver Post. It has a small staff, and serves up community news written by readers. Said publisher Travis Henry, "It's a billboard. If someone wants to write about a car wash .... it serves a purpose."
The conference also highlighted some award-winning online work, from the Atlanta Journal-Constitutions coverage of the courthouse shootings they invited readers to write in what they saw and then used the space for community grieving to the Providence Journals gorgeous several-part series on one mans effort to save the beauty of Block Island. The Roanoke Times used the Web to show what life was like for Christian and Muslim refugees from Africa and Eastern Europe sharing a nine-acre apartment complex called Terrace.
Sands told how reporters and readers have vastly different senses of papers. He told how some reporters were asked to respond to question, If your paper were a celebrity, who would it be?
Tom Hanks, the reporters answered.
The readers' perception?
We're got our work cut out for us.