Sunday, December 28, 2014

Inquirer to Strawbridge's: A new home, a heavy heart

The Inquirer is moving to Strawbridge's. We'll be housed on the third floor, where Frank and Peter Strawbridge once stocked linens and fine china, not in a building that used to tremble when the presses were fired up to put our work on paper.

Inquirer to Strawbridge's: A new home, a heavy heart

The Inquirer is moving to Strawbridge & Clothier's. We'll be housed on the third floor, where, I'm told, Frank and Peter Strawbridge once stocked linens and fine china, not in our white-towered building that used to tremble when the presses were fired up.

My heart is breaking. Our newsroom at 400 N. Broad St. is probably one of the most beautiful rooms in the city.  It's about three stories tall, with huge industrial windows and giant pillars that once supported the presses. Around deadline, which these days is around sunset, a golden glow outlines the window frames. I pause for a minute or two to admire it. Only a minute though. Deadlines are deadlines. 

I wanted to be a newspaper reporter my whole life, since I was 10-years-old.  When I got to Temple, I dreamed of working here. We all did. This building, the one we are leaving, represented the pinnacle of success to me. In 1982, when I finally got a job here, it was the proudest moment of my life (except for when my two children were born).

On my first day, I confidently walked up to the back door and entered this building. The front door is for guests, but when you belong, you come in the back, in the employees' entrance. In those days, the back door led to the mailroom, a dark and inky warren of conveyor belts that spitted our newspapers onto the loading docks on 15th Street after they cascaded in a papery waterfall from the presses on the floor above -- now our newsroom. If you managed correctly, you could thread your way among the conveyor belts and arrive in the front lobby via a little hidden staircase tucked into the corner. That was my goal.

Instead, I got hopelessly lost. I did find a staircase and opened a door to what I might be the lobby, or maybe the newsroom. It was the pressman's bathroom, with huge industrial sinks equipped to handle the grime.  Red-faced, I shut the door and got out of there. So much for first-day romance. 

What a beautiful place to work. Some Friday nights -- our busiest night -- when the pressmen and the mailers worked here instead of out at our "new" plant in the suburbs, I'd leave late, walking out the back door. On Friday nights, the street lights would be golden on the wet, dark street and glint off the silver food trucks lined up along the curb ready to sell bad coffee and sandwiches. Their customers were the crowd of mailers who showed up Friday nights to stuff the advertising circulars into the back sections of our Sunday paper. Smoking, wearing hats made of newspapers, talking loud, laughing, they looked like they stepped out of an Edward Hopper painting, but not sad. Gritty, urban, great.

As a business writer, I know that neither this company, nor this newspaper, nor this building is mine, even though I have always considered them that way in my heart. Our company is owned by investors. Bart Blatstein now owns our building and "digs" it. Me too. It doesn't make sense financial sense for us to stay here any longer, our bosses tell us. And I believe them. As an employee, I'm worried about the usual things when it comes to our move. Will we be able to have the proper equipment, space and parking to do our jobs? Will there be enough light? Will there be windows? Will I be able to see outside? I'll miss the golden or scarlet sunset on the windows here.   

It's funny to imagine presses rumbling in the Strawbridge's building. Wonder if the china would fall off the shelves! Here's the thing -- no matter where we move and how nicely decorated it is, we, the reporters, will soon transform our new newsroom into the pleasantly trashy environment that we all enjoy and that is the hallmark of newsrooms everywhere. 

But there's a key point that matters most: When we move to Strawbridge's, we are still going to put out the best newspapers and websites that we can, every day, every time . That's us -- all of us, the reporters, editors, photographers, ad people, press operators, drivers, everyone. It doesn't matter who owns us, it doesn't matter where we work.  What we do here comes from our intellect, our shoe leather and our heart. With love, from us to you.  

 

Jane M. Von Bergen Inquirer Staff Writer
About this blog

Jobbing covers the workplace – employment, unemployment, management, unions, legal issues, labor economics, benefits, work-life balance, workforce development, trends and profiles.

Jane M. Von Bergen writes about workplace issues for the Inquirer.

Married to a photographer she met at her college newspaper, Von Bergen has been a reporter since fourth grade, covering education, government, retailing, courts, marketing and business. “I love the specific detail that tells the story,” she says.

Reach Jane M. at jvonbergen@phillynews.com.

Jane M. Von Bergen Inquirer Staff Writer
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