From the executive editor: We’re changing for the better

Stan Wischnowski, executive editor and senior vice president

Over the past three years, The Inquirer’s newsroom has benefited greatly from one of the most noteworthy media ownership structures in America. Thanks to the generosity and vision of the late H.F. “Gerry” Lenfest, we’ve embarked on a journey to create a sustainable model for indispensable local journalism that lasts long into the future.

Our status as a public benefit corporation owned by the nonprofit Lenfest Institute for Journalism means that we’re not beholden to any Wall Street shareholders, hedge funds, or corporate owners looking to profit off our work. We are beholden solely to the citizens of the Philadelphia region, a rare and coveted position given the many pressures facing the news industry.

We’ve made major investments to acquire key talent and technology to bolster our digital platforms and reach new audiences while continuing to serve our loyal print subscribers. Our transformation remains a work in progress, but we’re accelerating our pace to better serve you.

We’re doing this in many ways: a greater array of deeply reported investigations; a more diverse and representative newsroom; more engaging newsletters and social media interactions; smarter use of photo galleries, videos, and audio journalism; more community events and collaborative content partnerships; more data visualizations and innovative experiments; a redesigned website and app; and much more. Next Sunday, April 7, we’re unveiling The UpSide, a new Sunday Inquirer print section and digital presence that showcases the good news of our communities.

In some other steps recently taken, we’ve:

  • Hired more than 40 talented journalists over the past 18 months with a diverse range of backgrounds and digital journalism skills, including reporters, videographers, producers, data experts, and audience specialists.
  • Added to our 13-person investigative team, and created a 12-person statewide investigative unit called Spotlight PA, starting soon in Harrisburg.
  • Refocused our coverage plans for City Hall and national politics in advance of pivotal elections.
  • Renewed our emphasis on the Philadelphia suburbs and South Jersey.
  • Started publishing more pieces of service journalism — news you can use — throughout our Sports, Business, Health, Opinion, and Arts & Lifestyle desks.

During the changes, our newsroom’s core mission has remained focused on delivering accountability journalism that makes a difference in our communities. I can’t stress enough how much we appreciate your trust and loyalty, both of which we work to earn every day.

We think of our news enterprise as a 190-year-old startup with a great heritage of Pulitzer Prize-winning, public-service journalism but also a mandate to rapidly innovate in order to serve our communities for a long time to come. Thank you for joining us on the journey.

We want to hear from you. Please contact me at AMA@inquirer.com.

From the editor: A newsroom’s many moving parts

Gabriel Escobar, editor and vice president

A newsroom is a little like a transit system in that things move in different directions at once, often on different schedules, and are guided by different conductors. The common goal, for us, is delivering journalism.

A breaking news story can be reported, written, edited, and posted online by a single journalist in a matter of minutes. By contrast, The Inquirer’s recent investigation of the Glen Mills Schools took six months to report, and its publication across our various platforms involved nearly every part of the newsroom.

At any given moment, on any day, most of the following is happening at once: Editors are assigning stories to be delivered within minutes, hours, or days; reporters are gathering information and writing; photographers and videographers are shooting and editing; editors are preparing immediate and long-term stories for the web and for print; producers are watching online traffic and updating the homepage; audience specialists are distributing content; decisions on story and photo placements are being made; pages are being laid out.

And somewhere in the newsroom, someone is always working on something sensitive: an exclusive story, a groundbreaking investigation, a whistle-blowing source.

The concept of deadline is the great regulator — the source of both pressure and productivity. This used to be a more powerful force when print was king, before the advent of digital journalism. But things still have to be done, many of them today, many of them right now.

Journalism making a difference: Inside a sweeping investigation

Investigative reporter Lisa Gartner first wrote about the Glen Mills Schools, the oldest U.S. reform school for boys, in August 2018 after a counselor body-slammed and punched a student in an attack caught on surveillance video. Gartner followed up in February with a sweeping investigation that revealed decades of child abuse and cover-ups at the Delaware County school. The story came together through more than 40 interviews with students, staff, and others, and a review of thousands of pages of internal documents, public court records, and incident reports.

A.W., who asked to be identified by his initials, says he was beaten up by counselors at Glen Mills Schools.
HEATHER KHALIFA / Staff Photographer
A.W., who asked to be identified by his initials, says he was beaten up by counselors at Glen Mills Schools.

Gartner answered questions about the Glen Mills coverage for The Inquirer Morning Newsletter. This is an edited version of that Q&A:

Was it difficult to get those involved to talk about their experiences?

“It really varied, person by person. Some people were eager to speak out about what happened, hoping it would protect future students. Others, still working through the trauma, needed to take some time to make sure it was the right decision.

“The last thing I wanted to do was to talk someone into doing something they were uncomfortable doing, so I was careful and tried to make sure everyone knew exactly what cooperating with the story would look like.”

What were some challenges you faced in reporting this story?

“One of the challenges is that Glen Mills leaders declined to be interviewed. But I treated them the same as I’d treat anyone, with as much fairness and transparency as possible.

“I sent them a comprehensive memo outlining my findings, and gave them a business week to respond. The goal is to have no surprises when they read the story. The whole notion of ‘gotcha’ journalism is so against how investigative reporting really operates.”

If there’s one thing readers should take away from this investigation, what would you like them to know?

“No child deserves to be abused, let alone by an adult who was supposed to help rehabilitate them. ... I hope people take away from this investigation that taxpayer money is funding child abuse at a school that was supposed to be helping boys. They are victims, and hurting them only makes Philadelphia less safe.”

Results so far of The Inquirer’s reporting into abuse at Glen Mills Schools:

  • State officials ordered the emergency removal of all remaining boys at Glen Mills Schools. Previously, judges in Michigan, Texas, California, and Pennsylvania had pulled more than 100 boys from Glen Mills.
  • The president of the school’s board of managers resigned. The school’s executive director has taken a leave of absence.
  • The Pennsylvania Department of Human Services, state auditor general, state inspector general, and Delaware County district attorney are investigating allegations raised in The Inquirer’s coverage.

It’s a deal: How we planned for, responded to the Bryce Harper signing

Well before six-time Major League Baseball all-star Bryce Harper inked his 13-year, $330 million contract with the Phillies this preseason, The Inquirer’s award-winning Sports team had a robust plan in place to keep our digital and print readers ahead of the big news.

At 2:50 p.m. Feb. 28, MLB Network’s Jon Heyman tweeted, “Breaking: Bryce to the Phillies.” Here’s what happened next.

  • 2:52: Sports producer Katie McInerney texts key reporters, columnists, and editors to verify report.
  • 2:53: Phillies reporter Matt Breen confirms a deal has been reached.
  • 2:54: Breen’s story publishes on Philly.com and The Inquirer’s social media.
  • 2:55: Reporter Scott Lauber writes an analysis of the signing. It goes online along with a Breen story on the Phillies’ potential starting lineup and 40 things for fans to know about Harper by Ed Barkowitz.
  • 3:02: Harper coverage dominates the Philly.com homepage.
  • 3:08: Bob Brookover writes a column on the signing live from spring training in Clearwater, Fla.
  • 3:10 to 4:29: Stories are continually updated; Philly.com photo galleries, videos, and story placements are refreshed.
  • 4:30: McInerney compiles an in-depth look at social media reactions to the signing.
  • 5:15: Real estate reporter Jacob Adelman confirms that Harper’s Blind Barber is coming to Philly.
  • 5:53: Columnist Marcus Hayes weighs in on the blockbuster deal.
  • 8:07: Lauber notes that home run-friendly Citizens Bank Park was a factor in Harper’s decision.
  • Midnight: Online stories throughout the day fed into expanded print coverage in the next day’s Inquirer and Daily News.

By 5 a.m. Friday Philly.com had a fresh column from David Murphy and a look at the deal’s wage-tax ramifications from Laura McCrystal. The Harper story is one our subscribers and readers all over the world relied on us to cover from every angle, and one that The Inquirer will continue to follow this season and for years to come. Thirteen years, to be exact.

A platform for all: New voices contributing to our Opinion perspectives

A few days before Christmas, Gov. Tom Wolf tweeted: “I think it is time for Pennsylvania to take a serious and honest look at recreational marijuana.” That announcement, which came as Lt. Gov. John Fetterman continues his statewide listening tour on the topic, was a surprising change of heart from Wolf, who was previously less open to the idea.

The Inquirer’s Opinion department took the opportunity to present readers with an array of contrasting viewpoints on this hot-button issue:

  • Money: Opinion staff writer Abraham Gutman delivered a thoughtful take on the potential tax revenue that could come into the commonwealth if recreational marijuana was legalized.
  • Race: Regular contributor Solomon Jones took an opposing stance, arguing that America’s history when it comes to drug laws has been too inconsistent and racist for legalization to benefit people of color.
  • Opioids: Maria McFarland Sánchez-Moreno, executive director of the Drug Policy Alliance, looked at marijuana legalization’s potential effect on one of the biggest crises facing the Philadelphia region: the opioid epidemic.
  • Health: Author and New York Times writer Alex Berenson shared new research on the mental health impact of marijuana, saying that over the past 30 years, researchers have proved that marijuana is linked to psychosis.

As political polarization increases — and as readers question any perceived bias they see in media outlets — The Inquirer has embraced the challenge to expand the mix of voices in our Opinion coverage and find new ways to expose people to every angle of a debate.

Our Opinion coverage now includes more local conservative voices like George Parry and Christine Flowers, as well as nationally syndicated writers like Marc Thiessen and George Will. We also connect with the Heritage Foundation, the Manhattan Institute, and other partisan and nonpartisan organizations to broaden the perspectives we spotlight.

Coming this spring from Opinion: a new series of public events called Common Ground, meant to explore the multiple dimensions of today’s issues with experts and audience members; Editorial Board endorsements of candidates in the May primary and beyond; and a co-sponsored City Council Candidates Convention to give voters an opportunity to meet with candidates.

Taking our newsroom to readers: Popping up with Helen Ubiñas

When local columnist Helen Ubiñas learned about pop-up newsrooms at a recent Journalism and Women Symposium, she was curious to see how the idea of a temporary, traveling newsroom might work in Philadelphia.

She borrowed an Inquirer banner, and had some chocolates and pencils branded with “Tip? Story idea? Contact @NotesfromHel,” her social media handle. And she set out to invite people — first students at Southwark School, then visitors to a record-expungement clinic inside a South Philly barbershop — to learn more about journalism and to share their stories with her.

Columnist Helen Ubiñas talks to Southwark School students during a @NotesFromHel Pop-Up Newsroom.
YONG KIM / Staff Photographer
Columnist Helen Ubiñas talks to Southwark School students during a @NotesFromHel Pop-Up Newsroom.

“Part of it is trying to educate people about what I do and what we do as reporters,” Ubiñas said. “Another part is just trying to connect with people. And then the third part is trying to have this ongoing relationship with the community and neighborhoods so that they know I want to hear [their] stories.”

At Southwark, Ubiñas led elementary students in designing their own front pages while she described her job as a journalist. She also listened to the kids’ parents, several of them immigrants, who told her about their unique experiences and about what they’d like to see more of in the news.

At the record-expungement clinic in the barbershop, Ubiñas spoke with some of the estimated one in three Philadelphians who have some kind of criminal record. She wrote about what she learned from their struggles finding good jobs and navigating the expungement process, and she tucked away the names and numbers of the volunteers who staff these clinics, for a future column.

“I’m going to continue to do these pop-ups because there is a connection being made, and it’s important,” Ubiñas said. “It’s an opportunity for me to show people, ‘Hey, you know that newspaper you pick up or read online? There are people behind that, and I’m one of them.’”

Bringing words to life: Video series spotlights black-owned businesses

Throughout Black History Month, Inquirer readers began to see an ongoing series about local black-owned businesses that featured compelling stories accompanied by high-definition videos. They were the work of digital producer Brandon T. Harden and video editor and producer Raishad M. Hardnett, who set out to report on financial literacy and achievement through a historical perspective.

“I wanted to tell black history through the eyes of black business owners,” Harden said.

Some of the businesses they documented include a Germantown menswear boutique that sells vintage couture, an East Falls yoga and wellness studio, and a legendary North Philly jazz bar. Coming up: A story and video on the history of nutrition in black communities told through the context of a black-owned vegan smoothie shop in Philadelphia. See more of their work at Philly.com/video.

“We’re going to continue the series throughout the year,” Harden said. “It’s really about how we can best tell the story of the business and the accompanying history.”

The response from readers and viewers has been overwhelming, Harden and Hardnett said. One person called to say how much it meant to her that The Inquirer was paying attention to a part of the business community that often gets overlooked by mainstream media.

“Video has a way of bringing life and emotion to a story in an entirely different way" than print, Hardnett said, recalling his interview with the 77-year-old owner of New Barber’s Hall jazz bar. “When we think of business reporting, we think of numbers and revenues and percentages. But watching the gleam in Jake Adams’ eyes when he talks is just as important.”

The eat beat: Q&A with food writer Michael Klein

Catching up with longtime Inquirer food writer Michael Klein:

How do you approach food and drink news with readers in mind?

“We have a diverse audience – not only from economic and cultural standpoints but also geography. The bulk of our readers in Pennsylvania and New Jersey do not live in Center City. And while the city is the epicenter of our dining scene, there is a significant slice of our audience that prefers to stay local. I cast a wide net to cover interesting, preferably independent restaurants and pubs wherever they are, at a variety of price points and levels of ‘foodie-ness.’ Tweezer food is not for everyone.”

Joe Beddia, of Pizzeria Beddia, grates cheese over a pizza.
DAVID MAIALETTI / Staff Photographer
Joe Beddia, of Pizzeria Beddia, grates cheese over a pizza.

In what ways do you think The Inquirer’s food coverage has improved in recent years?

“We’ve become more attuned to the way people eat and where they eat. To a large extent, social media has helped inform our coverage. Our food staff also has grown; more eyes and ears out there make for better coverage.”

How does your Instagram account (@phillyinsider) factor into your coverage?

“Instagram is a fun outlet that lets me connect directly with readers, but it’s also a notebook of sorts for me. Since my phone’s camera roll is tied to it, Instagram allows me to see at a glance where I’ve been and what should be converted into something for print or digital.”

Do people ever confuse your beat with that of Craig LaBan, The Inquirer’s restaurant critic?

“Unfortunately, everyone who writes about food is branded a critic. There’s a huge difference between my work and a critic’s. I look at the restaurant beat as three areas: food, people, and business. I’m not as focused on the food as I am on the people and the businesses. I try to make it clear that I cover the scene from a news perspective and not to pass judgment. I’m simply trying to show readers what’s going on out there.”

How often do you eat out a week?

“At least a dozen ‘meals’ in restaurants. I’m using quotes because I’m an inveterate grazer. Since I’m not a critic who would need to sample much of a menu, I can grab a dish here or there.”

Any tips for staying reasonably fit when you write about food for a living?

“The main strategy is taking a bite or two, and then politely pushing away the plate or having it packed up for leftovers.”

On the go: The Inquirer Morning Newsletter gives you something to talk about

Will reading The Inquirer Morning Newsletter:

  • Help you plan your day?
  • Give you something to talk about at work or a dinner party?
  • Tell you everything you need to know about the day’s news without getting ink on your hands?

“All of the above,” said Aubrey Nagle, who as The Inquirer’s newsletter editor oversees the Morning Newsletter plus six other emailed editorial offerings that focus on sports, food, politics, the Eagles, the Phillies, and things to do around Philly: Philly.com/newsletters.

The Morning Newsletter introduces subscribers to more than 20 Inquirer stories a day when it pops into inboxes around 7 a.m., all previewed in a conversational, personable tone — “as if I were telling the news to a friend,” Nagle said.

Besides story links, each weekday Morning Newsletter features an editorial cartoon from Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist Signe Wilkinson and an Instagram photo that our editors select from those tagged #OurPhilly. The Sunday edition of the newsletter includes a behind-the-story Q&A with one of our journalists.

The goal of the Morning Newsletter, Nagle said, is to give readers a daily snapshot of what people are talking about in Philadelphia and beyond.

“The audience for the Inquirer Morning Newsletter is anyone who cares about their city and region and wants to stay informed,” she said. “It’s definitely perfect for people on the go who don’t have hours to dedicate to the news each day. It’s also great for those who are unfamiliar with our journalism, as it highlights our wide range of coverage and writers.”

Coming up: New things we’re excited to share with you

More opportunities to interact with Inquirer journalists. Essential guides to the region. Increased public-accountability journalism. And a new home for good news. Here’s some of what we have in store for Inquirer readers this year:

Wind ripples, in the dunes on the beach in Avalon.
TOM GRALISH / STAFF
Wind ripples, in the dunes on the beach in Avalon.

Spotlight PA: Our ambitious and collaborative statewide investigative newsroom, Spotlight PA, is solidifying its 12-person team after the March hiring of editor-in-chief Christopher Baxter, formerly data and investigations editor at NJ.com and the Newark Star-Ledger. The groundbreaking project, supported by the Lenfest Institute for Journalism and other nonprofits, is a partnership between The Inquirer, the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, and LNP Media Group in Lancaster.

The mission of Spotlight PA is simple — investigative reporting that gets results — but the work is not. Through a combination of hard-hitting reporting, creative collaborations, and innovative storytelling, Spotlight PA will serve as a watchdog over state government, and the commonwealth at large, on behalf of all Pennsylvania residents, including Inquirer readers.

“We’re bringing back to Harrisburg the kind of investigative reporting muscle that Pennsylvania deserves,” Baxter said. “This newsroom will be singularly focused on delivering accountability journalism that exposes wrongdoing and tangibly improves the lives of Pennsylvania residents. We’ll produce original reports while also working in collaboration with existing media to serve as a resource and partner in fulfilling the role of a free press.

“Most important, we want residents to know that when they pay their taxes, need help in a tough time, or vote a politician into office, we’ll be there to make sure they get what they deserve.”

Keira McGrenehan, 10, uses the ergometer machine while she trains with members of the Penn women's rowing team at the Varsity Lifting Center of Penn's campus. McGrenehan is a fifth-grader with a chronic bowel disease. She was connected with Penn rowing through Team IMPACT, a national nonprofit that connects ill students with teams and athletes during their recovery.
HEATHER KHALIFA / Staff Photographer
Keira McGrenehan, 10, uses the ergometer machine while she trains with members of the Penn women's rowing team at the Varsity Lifting Center of Penn's campus. McGrenehan is a fifth-grader with a chronic bowel disease. She was connected with Penn rowing through Team IMPACT, a national nonprofit that connects ill students with teams and athletes during their recovery.

The UpSide: On Sunday, April 7, The Inquirer will debut The UpSide, our new home in the Sunday Inquirer and online for good news and good stories. Award-winning journalist and veteran columnist Ronnie Polaneczky edits The UpSide, where you’ll find uplifting tales of inspiration, hope, goodness, and solutions.

One story takes readers on a journey with Keira McGrenehan, 10, as she trains with the University of Pennsylvania women’s rowing team. Keira, a fifth grader at MaST Community Charter in Northeast Philadelphia, is being treated for ulcerative colitis at Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia. The hospital set her up with Team IMPACT, a national nonprofit that connects children who face chronic illnesses with college sports teams, creating lifelong bonds and life-changing outcomes.

Health and Science initiatives: Inquirer journalists and key partners are undertaking projects in 2019 with two essential Philadelphia ecosystems in mind — waterways and health care. Our goal: to bring you stories and images with local roots that resonate far beyond our region.

  • In partnership with the National Geographic Society, The Inquirer is embarking on a year-long exploration of the waterways that define our region. Fifteen million Americans rely on the Delaware River Watershed and its tributaries. Our collaboration will explore what climate change and human intervention are doing to this mighty yet delicate ecosystem. Along the way, we will talk about how the Delaware watershed has defined our present — and what we can do to improve the future.
  • The Philadelphia region’s many medical professionals, students, and the patients they serve have long shared their experiences and knowledge in the pages of The Inquirer, bringing firsthand perspectives that add immeasurably to the work of our award-winning health journalists. In September, we are organizing a first-of-its-kind Community Health Journalism Conference in Center City to celebrate our contributors, learn from each other, and consult with thought leaders — all with the goal of growing these essential channels of information and understanding.

Inquiring Minds: The Inquirer’s newest event series invites readers to participate in in-depth conversations with our journalists. Join us on the first Tuesday of each month for free, topical discussions about news, sports, opinion, photography, the arts, and more — plus behind-the-scene looks at Philadelphia’s biggest headlines.

The series kicked off in March with a lively talk on Philly sports led by Sports managing editor Pat McLoone with columnists Marcus Hayes and Mike Sielski. Upcoming topics include a discussion on the one-year anniversary of a racial incident at a Center City Starbucks, a conversation about food and dining, an introduction to The UpSide, and a look at college debt. To register and for more information: Philly.com/inquiringminds.

Made in Philly Coffee Shop Series: A Lenfest Institute grant is funding the work of six journalism fellows in The Inquirer’s newsroom. In addition to reporting on topics like health and Latino communities, the fellows have combined their efforts to create #MadeInPhilly. The multimedia series spotlights local millennials who are helping others navigate issues like equality, entrepreneurship, financial stability, sexual abuse, and more.

You can submit a story for consideration at Philly.com/madeinphilly, or, starting in April, you can interact with the fellows in person over coffee to pitch ideas or hear more about the stories they’re covering. They’ll be hosting informal meetups at local coffee shops in all corners of Philly to interact one-on-one with readers.

Ultimate Shore Guide: The annual Ultimate Shore Guide is The Inquirer’s must-have resource for anyone planning a New Jersey beach vacation this summer. We’re sharing favorite Shore traditions and nostalgic routines in beach towns from Atlantic City to Cape May in our 2019 issue, which publishes on May 17.

And we’re revealing the best of what’s new all along the Shore, including hot restaurants, can’t-miss concerts, and family-friendly activities. It’s not too early to stock up on sunscreen: Summer and the Shore are just down the road.