Suggestions for the Philadelphia Inquirer

I finished a two-week rotation in the Harrisburg bureau of the Philadelphia Inquirer last month, as part of my internship with the Pennsylvania Legislative Correspondents’ Association. I’ve since moved on, but because I am in Philadelphia, I thought I would share some thoughts that came to mind about improving the third oldest daily newspaper in the country.

In Spring 2006, as a sophomore, I had a transcendent internship with the paper’s city desk. I will always remember that as a seminal moment in my life. It was the first time I understood the power, the problems and the potential of one of the largest, oldest and most respected newspapers in the world.

After my second, briefer stint, some thoughts came to mind.

  • Branding – The Inquirer, Philly.com and the Daily News are all separate. Sorta. What the hell is the difference to the reader? (Those lessons should be learned through its video presence.)
  • Hermes, this is outrageous outdated and uncomfortable software to share and edit stories. It should have an online-notes section.
  • Consolidation: Watch the tears come, but Philadelphia Media Holdings has to, has to, has to either sell off or consolidate the Daily News. Sell off for competition, or if you go consolidation – which you likely will – see it as a chance to revive the Inquirer magazine, kind of. The crying will happen, but this is the end of the great newspaper bubble. Daily News staff is cut in half and made weekly.
  • Leverage colleges, Chris Satullo and Tom Ferrick love their community outreach group. Here’s one, go out to the City Six journalism and business schools and create a think tank for media innovation. Oh, and listen to them. Host a competition for best ideas a week of work, a week of innovation, online-only content
  • Profit off your history: why doesn’t the paper sell T-shirts, more thoroughly sell their photographs. Old honor boxes, sell them, set up a museum of Philadelphia, of national history seen through the lenses and pads of your staff. Framed PDF versions of front covers – Eagles win the NFC, Phillies in the playoffs, etc.
  • Stop recreating content. The Inquirer does use Twitter, but they’ve created their own video and some of their blogging seems forced – does their Harrisburg bureau understand why and how to blog? If you do something to do it, without doing it well.. that doesn’t work. Blogging is content delivery, not necessary content creation. I fear some of the paper’s blogs aren’t organic but rather run by those being forced to take on new media without their leadership being fully aware why they should be (Added 9/23/08). Are they creating more redundancy in the midst of that newspaper bubble?
  • Brand your journalists. Why isn’t Phil Sheridan ever on the Sports Reporters, Around the Horn or any other ESPN or other sports show? The Inquirer should not only want but work with its reporters to write books on their beats, do longer research. That brands your product and infuses pride in your halls. All your columnists and regular beat writers should have RSS feeds to their stories. Then get them on Facebook, MySpace or whatever else and have them create their own communities. Think of your journalists like a university thinks of their professors. The more independent work they do, the higher profile your institution is.
  • Understand that Brian Tierney does have to turn a profit and that may be a good thing, but if the paper can survive the next five years or so, when a business model will be found, it can thrive once more, as online advertising grows.
  • Are you making money selling archives? I don’t know the answer to that, but more of your archives should be opened. I can understand – if only for the time being – keeping some closed, perhaps those older than five years, but they should otherwise be kept open. In doing my honors thesis on the Philadelphia Republican Party I was forced to use stories from the New York Times on Philadelphia mayoral elections. That is embarrassing, and certainly means you won’t make money on what archives you’re selling.
  • Update, 12/3/08: Why isn’t the Inquirer monetizing its mobile-compliant product, like other big papers and even the porn industry? Or otherwise innovating its mobile product like other major papers.
  • Update, 12/28/08: Sell your history. Framed archives, T-shirts and umbrellas, Pulitzer-winning collections, columnist anthologies, etc. Why aren’t there Philadelphia history books using Inqy photographs?

There must be plenty more, what do you think?

Photo courtesy of PhillyIMC.