Tuesday, February 05, 2008

An Open Letter to the Staff of the Philadelphia Inquirer

To the Ombudsman of the Philadelphia Inquirer:

I apologize for taking up your time, as you must be very busy, but I feel there is a question you need to answer.

Why should my family continue to purchase your newspaper?

With the recent price increase, your paper costs only fifty cents less than the New York Times. Having read the Times, I must conclude it is a much superior paper. Reading through their international section alone, I found four times as many articles as your paper’s international section, which on many days is given over largely to ads.

In terms of international news, I do not even need to rely on the Times. Thanks to the magic of RSS feeds, I can receive articles from national and international newspapers, including the Israeli Ha’aretz and the British Guardian, along with posts from a variety of well-respected blogs. Frankly, there seems to be less and less need for me to spend money on the Inquirer.

The Times also has, on the whole, better columnists than the Inquirer. Although your paper has a few good columnists, such as Trudy Rubin, its selection does not compare with the Times. Furthermore, some of the Inquirer’s recent selections for columnists have been questionable at best. When the Times hires a right wing hack, they get someone relatively respectable, such as William Kristol. Your paper hired Michael Smerconish, a moderately successful radio host who is neither a particularly good or insightful writer.

You may argue that the Inquirer is still vital for local news. However, your paper’s credentials in that regard are increasingly questionable. As a recent article in the Philadelphia Weekly reveals that Brian Tierney, CEO of the company that owns the Inquirer, is considering outsourcing to foreign countries in order to cut costs. If this is done, your paper can hardly claim to be local.

Furthermore, even if one ignores the outsourcing factor, your paper’s coverage of many Philadelphia neighborhoods is genuinely pathetic. The Philadelphia Association of Black Journalists, as noted in the Philadelphia Weekly article, has complained that many communities only get covered in case of a murder.

In recent months, the Inquirer has also demonstrated a disturbing lack of priorities in its local news coverage. For instance, the Inquirer gave only cursory attention to the arrest of one of Donna Reed Miller’s aides in an extortion case, while examining in minute detail every possible aspect of Alycia Lane’s misadventures. This will not do.

(And don’t try to hide behind the excuse that Lane is what people were talking about, as a certain Daily News columnist did. The function of journalists in a democratic society is to make people aware of government conduct. That was the reasoning of the Founding Fathers when they granted extensive First Amendment freedoms to the press.)

The Inquirer is not the only source of local news coverage. For example, the free Philadelphia Public Record newspaper gives extensive coverage to the inner workings of Philadelphia politics. The City Paper and the Philadelphia Weekly cover the neighborhoods and arts community with a progressive bent. I can get all of these papers for free. There are also many local blogs, such as the Young Philly Politics blog, that offer excellent coverage of local politics.

Unless your paper dramatically improves, I may have to discontinue purchasi

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