“I think it’s kind of droll,” he told CJR. “Why is staying local important? It depends on who it is local. Who it is here is Brian Tierney, who is an executive and an aggressive Republican activist…I think the paper has gone downhill with Tierney in charge. I think the idea that we should support him just because the ownership is local is baloney.”
Herman notes that the Inquirer was generally regarded to be at a low point under long-time local publisher Walter Annenberg, who shamelessly used the paper to further his personal and political interests. It was under outsider John C. Knight (owner of the Knight, and then Knight Ridder, newspaper chain) that the Inquirer became a paper of record, winning a bevy of Pulitzers.
Bruce Schimmel, a local writer and founder of the Philadelphia City Paper, agreed, saying, “It seems kind of clever—basically PR folks who decided to insert their own astonishingly conservative agenda into this blue collar town. I guess that’s local—the money’s local.”
A letter responding to the recent New York Times Magazine story also echoed this concern:
“Brian Tierney’s conservative ideology destroyed the heart of our much beloved Inky,” wrote Suzanne Cloud of Collingswood, New Jersey. “Tierney never learned that a paper must know its audience. Philadelphia is a Democratic city and has been for a very long time. When my personal tipping point arrived, I just started subscribing to The New York Times.”
But some observers of Philadelphia media scene say the campaign is savvy—and pure Tierney.
“I really like it, “says Ben Yagoda, a writer and professor of journalism at the University of Delaware who reported for the Daily News in the 1980s. “I was kind of waiting for Brian Tierney to work his public relations magic that he was supposed to be so great at, and I hadn’t seen any of it until now.”
Yagoda thinks that it’s a campaign well-suited to today’s Inquirer, noting that cuts to national and overseas desks mean that local is going to be the paper’s specialty, adding “it’s simple, ‘Keep It Local’ is just four syllables. If I were a marketing professor, I’d give it an A-plus.”
Philadelphia Magazine editor Larry Platt agrees that the move is creative genius, but is unsure whether the message will resonate locally. “I don’t think that it’s going to be this grassroots thing that energizes people, most people are just trying to get through their day—if you ask a man on the street what the details of the Inquirer and Daily News bankruptcy case, they’d say they don’t know,” he says.
Platt acknowledges that while some of the paper’s content has weakened, the Inquirer remains a trenchant local watchdog. He points to recent groundbreaking investigations that uncovered corruption at the city’s Board of Revision of Taxes and in the office of former State Senator Vince Fumo. But, like Herman, he’s not sure that the papers’ current owners deserve the local cred. Platt says that he lost sympathy for Tierney after he gave himself a raise and a $350,000 bonus—just before the bankruptcy filing, and right after union employees forwent their own raise.
Perhaps both debtors and creditors will begin showing up in court sporting Phillies caps. In the end, however, the Inquirer and Daily News’s future depends on the bankruptcy judge’s taste for Philly’s local flavor.