Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Why I subscribed to the Philadelphia Daily News today

We moved to Philadelphia nearly two years ago, and for the first time in my adult life I've gone without a subscription to a local daily newspaper. Why? Easy: It's the 21st century! Why spend money on getting a printed product when you can just go to and select the RSS feeds you want to follow?

Today, however, that changed. Money's still tight in the Mathis household -- full-time employment sure would be nice! -- but it seemed like a declaration of values is needed. I subscribed to the Philadelphia Daily News. Our first issue should arrive on Friday or Saturday.

Again, why? Again: Easy. The Daily News has new owners. And I want them to know how important Philadelphia journalism is to me.

To be clear, this isn't passive-aggressive gotcha with Brian Tierney, the would-be media mogul who lost control of the Daily News -- and the Inquirer, and -- today. I've been critical of Tierney's seeming cynicism and hucksterism -- but if Tierney possessed those qualities in abundance, one has to give him props for continuing to support good journalism in a challenging era. The Daily News won -- and deserved -- a Pulitzer Prize this year.

Now that he's out, and a group of creditors is taking over, the question will almost certainly be raised: Can the Daily News survive?

Since I've been in town -- and, so I'm told, for years before that -- the tabloid has been spoken of as the weak sister in the city's daily paper constellation. Since the Inquirer is owned by the same company, the thinking went, what were the benefits of having two daily newspapers that robbed each other of circulation? Why not poor all that money into one paper and reap the benefits.

I have my own answer. For me, the Daily News is a real Philadelphia newspaper.

Oh, I could do without its annual "sexiest singles" roundup, and it's self-conscious "People Paper" conceit. But the paper is aggressively local: It covers Philadelphia closely and aggressively. Its Pulitzer was won for a series of articles that exposed corruption on the Philly police force, a good and necessary example of local accountability journalism.

The Inquirer, meanwhile, still seems stuck in an identity crisis. Look at the front page on any given day and you'll see that it's still ruled by the idea that it can be a "paper of record" for events beyond Philly and its environs -- lots of national and international stories, most days, culled from wire services. News that you can (and probably are getting) from other, online sources. It's a pale imitation of the days, 20 and 30 years ago, when the Inky had its own bureaus out around the world.

And even the local news isn't always so local. The Inky's audience -- and thus a huge chunk of its newshole -- is largely out in the suburbs. That's fine. Except I don't really need to read as much about New Jersey politics as the Inquirer wants to sell me. The Daily News, meanwhile, is Philly, Philly and Philly some more.

But the Inky has a bigger circulation. Probably a more lucrative audience base. And so if the decision comes to cut back to one newspaper in this town, well, it's probably the Inky that will survive.

So today I subscribed to the Daily News. It's a statement to the new owners -- small and unconvincing though it might be -- that the DN's journalism is important to me, and (I think) to the community. Even with new ownership in place, it's likely that rough times are still ahead for Philly newspapers, and the industry as a whole. (Don't be surprised if we start hearing about layoffs at both papers, and soon.) If my 30 dollars can keep the Daily News rolling a little bit longer, it's a price I'm happy to pay.


Joe in Philly said...

My hope is that if the new owners kill the Daily News they'll refund my money rather than transfer my subscription to the Inquirer. If the Inquirer is the only paper in town I'll do without. There's enough information online for free that I'll survive.

And I also hate "Sexy Singles."

Allen said...

Two years? Two years? Man...