Tuesday, July 27, 2010

This is why I won't read the Philadelphia Inquirer in print

At right is today's front page of the Philadelphia Inquirer. It's a demonstration of why -- much as I'd like to support local journalism -- I can't bring myself to subscribe to this paper in print.

The big main story? The one that occupies the two-thirds of the space above the "fold" and is thus the main selling point to buy the paper off the rack?

It's a two-day-old story.

And it was written by the Los Angeles Times.

The first issue is one that print newspapers will always deal with. They simply can't hit the news with the same speed as the web. (The story broke late enough Sunday that the Inky, apparently, couldn't or didn't get it on Monday's front page.) And the Inky's editors, in all fairness, went with a story that analyzes the fallout from the WikiLeaks document dump instead of reporting it as "new" news.

The second issue, though, goes to the heart of the Inky's problems. It used to be one of the newspapers of national record, with bureaus and reporters around the world. It's not that paper anymore. But it still plays at being that paper, which is why readers -- and potential readers -- are treated to front-page stories from the Los Angeles Times. Which, given 21st century technology, they easily could've read ... in the Los Angeles Times.

How would I have designed today's front page differently? Tough to say. But the Inky needs a different organizing principle. It's a Philly-Philly suburbs-South Jersey paper, and that's what it ought to look like -- not like a warmed-over New York Times. Switch up the sections -- the front page and everything in the front section should be local stuff (except in extreme 9/11-style "great moments of history" situations) and all that wire copy describing stuff going on in places that aren't Philadelphia should be relegated to the second section.

There are good journalists working at the Inquirer. I don't mean to diss them. But the changes I'm describing probably should've happened five years ago. At least. New ownership is in place. It's time to make the Inky more relevant to the communities it covers, and the front page is the best place to start.

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