Hands down, Steve Volk is one of the best investigative reporters this city has — he’s got old-school chops but (and this is key) has his eyes wide open. Now, for our money, since Volk moved to Philadelphia Magazine, there just hasn’t been as much Volk going around, and that’s a damn shame; when he was at Philadelphia Weekly, for a while there, he was the only guy worth reading in the whole paper. But Volk just dropped a story in PhillyMag — “1978 Called: It Wants Its Newspaper Back” — that makes the lack-of-Volk all worthwhile. It’s a monster. On this site, we often wonder aloud, when covering the fates of Brian Tierney, The Daily News and Inquirer, if any of you out there even care; if you don’t, read Volk’s piece and it’s pretty much the only one you’ll need to read for a while. If you do care about this stuff, you’ve probably read it already. In the piece, Volk gets to the heart of the deeply screwed culture of these papers and their new ownership, and it’s not pretty. Theoretical solutions abound to the Inky and DN’s problems, of course, but at this point, they are just that — theoretical. Volk’s piece paints a picture of a news organization with its hands bound so tightly as to suggest that of all the carnage that has gone on at Broad & Whatever, we’ve only seen the beginning. After the jump, we quiz Steve Volk.
Reading your story confirmed a lot of what I’d long believed to be the situation at the Daily News and Inquirer: that it’s literally filled with flawed characters. Union members who’d rather retire than budge, writers and editors who just don’t fucking get it, ad reps who can’t figure out how to make money online, and the Tierney Brain Trust, whose hubris at this point is almost Blagojevichian. Who, I ask you, who, is the sympathetic character(s) in this story?
Pip, from Great Expectations. Particularly in the original ending. Dude just saw too much and I continue to worry over him. But I digress. I actually empathize with each of these factions. But in terms of laying out what’s going on there right now, from a business perspective, which is what this story is about, it isn’t pretty. For me, the bottom line is there’s no more time for hand-wringing or thinking about what was. It is time to think about 2015. And right now, just looking at the product, I feel like they are still thinking like it’s 1978.
What do you really, on a gut level, see happening with PMH and its properties over the next, say, five years?
Well, remember the bit from Great Expectations when Miss Havisham and her old, faded wedding dress catch on fire? Yeah. I think the place is kind of on fire right now. In the novel, Miss Havisham hangs on for a little while and I think we’re gonna see that, too. I think the opportunity is there for the company to figure things out, but it will require a much more dramatic retooling than they seem to be engaging in right now. I think the thing we all have to acknowledge is that no clear idea exists, as yet, of how exactly to reshape a property like this. It’s guess work, and the company that figures it out will create a template for the rest of the country to follow. I do think Bunch is on to something with the Norg.
Real talk: Does the idea of Tierney asking Rendell for a state bailout for PMH strike you as insane and sad as it does for me?
If something like that is asked for and granted, I’m not sure how the papers continue to be a trusted, objective source of news.
How big of a boner do you think Will Bunch gets every time someone who is not him uses the word “norg”?
Biggest of his life. This is for you, Will: Norg.
If you were, say, a young-ish strapping young man who ran a large cityblog, knowing what you now know about the DN and Inky, what would you do with this
That’s a lot of youngs, brother. I make the argument in the piece that a start-up with money for a couple of designers and nine reporters could begin to make serious inroads. That sounds blasphemous, from the perspective of a daily newspaper, but I really think some cities in this country will see web start-ups eclipse their old dailies. You start with 10 or 12 people, or one, and you grow. If I were a “youngish, strapping young man who ran a large cityblog” I would set about trying to be, like, all young and stuff, and make that happen.
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