In response, the paper’s top editors dispatched a SWAT team of reporters to work forty-five-day tours of duty in Chester County. “Everybody was confused about what the mission was. There weren’t enough desks or computers,” recalls Art Carey, a veteran reporter who had been writing a column for the Image section. The contract negotiations were going on, layoffs were on the horizon, and “the entire staff was in a state of disarray and demoralized.”
But Carey, who is still writing features in Chester County, says he doesn’t blame Tierney for the redeployment. “I always thought the idea that he would not interfere with the editorial product was ludicrous,” he says. “Why would you buy something that you can’t shape? If I were in his shoes, I’d raise a ruckus, too.”
Carey worries more about the sponsored business column. “It’s a perilous and confusing time for newspapers,” he says. “The question is, how much compromising should be done to ensure their economic vitality? And at what point does that begin to destroy people’s respect for the product and undermine its credibility?”
Tierney makes no apologies for his involvement: “I didn’t buy this to put it in a blind trust. I’m not here to be a potted plant. Does Don Graham”—chief executive officer of The Washington Post Company—“get involved? I think he does. Arthur Sulzberger”—publisher of The New York Times—“do you think he just kind of sits in his office and plays pinochle? No. You’re running an operation. You need to lead it.”
Not long after the layoffs, Tierney hired three freelance columnists: Michael Smerconish, an outspoken radio personality who was already a Daily News columnist; Mark Bowden, a former Inquirer reporter and the author of Black Hawk Down: A Story of Modern War (1999); and Lisa Scottoline, a bestselling author of legal thrillers. Smerconish and Bowden, both right of center, write for the Inquirer’s Currents section, while Scottoline pens a humor column for Image called “Chick Wit.”
The prospective hires came as a surprise to Chris Satullo, the editorial page editor, who had been discussing a column with Senator Rick Santorum, a conservative Republican. Satullo announced his resignation from the job in June. Tierney “has thirteen ideas in the shower every morning,” including “two great ideas,” said a clearly frustrated Satullo, who will stay on as a columnist and director of the paper’s civic engagement efforts. Tierney, Satullo said, needs “to develop trusting relationships” with his editors and understand that when they challenge him, “it’s not resistance to change talking—it’s experience, and maybe even wisdom, talking.”
Tierney cites his hiring of Marimow, who is well respected in the newsroom, as one of his greatest coups. Marimow has embraced the new mission of excellence in local and regional coverage, putting the Inquirer’s (waning) old ambitions aside. The paper’s sole remaining foreign correspondent, Ned Warwick, was summoned home after just a few months in Jerusalem and is now the Pennsylvania editor. The Inquirer’s onetime Africa correspondent, Andrew Maykuth, and its former national political reporter, Larry Eichel, were assigned to a stellar team covering Philadelphia’s hotly contested Democratic mayoral primary.
Marimow and Tierney also recruited Vernon Loeb, the Los Angeles Times’s investigations editor and a former Inquirer foreign correspondent, as metropolitan editor. Tierney called Loeb’s wife to clinch the deal. Loeb says he had come to believe that “those guys running the Tribune Company were the least innovative bunch I’d ever seen—the same as Knight Ridder. They had one move: diminish the product.” Tierney, by contrast, seemed to embody “all the entrepreneurial qualities that Tribune seems to lack.”
In May, Tierney, in another promotional masterstroke, announced that the Inquirer would sponsor a Sudoku National Championship in October, with the New York Times crossword puzzle guru, Will Shortz, as host. A year from now, he says, his “fervent hope” is to be able to hire more journalists and perhaps even to bring back the Inquirer’s once-admired, but costly, Sunday magazine. “It would make a lot of people feel good about me,” he says.
Meanwhile, Loeb says he told his wife, “If I go to Philadelphia and the place goes out of business in a year, just say what soldiers’ wives say: ‘He died doing what he loved.’ That’s the way I feel about it. If we can’t make it here, with Bill Marimow running the newsroom and Brian Tierney running the business side of the paper, God help this industry.”