When a newspaper keeps reporters out, you've got trouble
March 5, 2012By Dave Davies
Is this woman dangerous?
Could be, if you have something to hide.
Pictured here is WHYY reporter Elizabeth Fiedler, in the very photo I'm told was posted yesterday in the security stations at the entrance of the Inquirer and Daily News building, along with instructions that she is not be be allowed on the premises.
That followed Fiedler's visits to the building two days last week to interview reporters, columnists and editors about sweeping changes underway for the papers and Philly.com as the company simultaneously downsizes and puts itself up for sale.
I'm not sure when the picture was posted, but an employee I spoke to saw it in a security post Sunday evening. On Friday, a memo was distributed in the building which read in part:
In the last week, several unauthorized visitors have been discovered in our Broad Street facility. It is imperative that your visitors sign in at the Broad Street entrance and wear the appropriate visitor’s badge, and, at no time, should a visitor be permitted to move about the building unescorted.
The memo didn't mention Fiedler, but the timing makes you wonder if it was related to her wanted poster.
Given the reaction, you might think Lizz had snuck in wearing a custodian's uniform, or crouching under a rolling caterer's table.
In fact she signed in with security and went in for on-the-record interviews - on Tuesday with reporters and columnists, and Thursday with the editors of both papers and the chief content officer of Philly.com.
The conversation focused on plans to reduce staff and combine some operations of the Daily News, Inquirer, and the website.
It's hard not to conclude that the editors who spoke with Fiedler didn't inform their corporate bosses of the interview, and that the bosses were less than pleased (no comment so far from any of the three editors).
One could imagine that folks who run the website and newspaper are less than pleased with what the corporate crew have done for the media organization's image lately. The heavy-handed suppression of news about bidders for the company last month led to criticism in this space and elsewhere, and an embarrassing story in the New York Times.
When I reached company spokesman Mark Block this morning, he said he'd heard nothing about the Fiedler photo. By the end of the day he still didn't have anything for me on that, but said the Friday memo on authorized visitors wasn't related to her visit.
"We've had some people in building who were unauthorized and hadn't signed in," Block said. "but Elizabeth had signed in, so this was not applicable to her."
"She's fine, she's welcome here," he added (see UPDATE below).
Meanwhile, according to a Friday story, former Pa. Gov. Ed Rendell told Ben Smith of Politico that bids to buy Philadelphia Media Network, which owns the papers and Philly.com went in on Friday. That suggests more than one bidder is in play - the group associated with Rendell and another led by developer Bart Blatstein, and perhaps according to this Inquirer piece, Jeffrey Perelman, son of philanthropist Raymond Perelman.
Finally, I wanted to share this from Daily News assistant city editor David Preston,whose Holocaust story about his mother is the basis of the film, In Darkness. He wrote the following to his colleagues at the papers, where the company is looking to cut 37 positions:
On this day when the Inquirer was kind enough to display an article of mine from Friday's Daily News, along with a PDF link to my 1983 Inquirer Magazine cover story about my mother, please forgive me for feeling empowered to send this message out to everyone.
I was a 28-year-old reporter at the Inquirer when Jim Naughton and Gene Roberts encouraged me and gave me the space to tell my mother's story, edited by the great Art Carey and laid out by the great Bill Marr. I was only one of many young journalists at both papers who worked in an atmosphere that embraced and nurtured our best efforts. Subsequently I had two more cover stories about my parents in the magazine.
Three decades later, as an editor on the Daily News city desk, I have the privilege of working with and mentoring a new generation of reporters, among the best and the brightest in our profession, and today our beloved joint enterprise is on the verge of losing them. It is unthinkable that we cannot find another alternative, a more-creative approach to saving money, than to lay off the young journalists who are the lifeblood of Philadelphia. At this perilous moment, I urge our company to reconsider this destructive plan, to come up with a different solution, to save these jobs, and thereby to secure the future of journalism in the Cradle of Liberty.
Long live the Philadelphia Inquirer and the Philadelphia Daily News.
UPDATE: Company spokesman Mark Block called back around 6 p.m. to say that Fiedler's picture had been posted due to an "error in communication" among security personnel at the building. Block said the error was made when security folks failed to reconcile the entry log kept at the Broad Street entrance with the log at the 15th St. entrance, and somehow got the misimpression there was a problem with Fiedler's presence in the building.
"It’s very clear somebody jumped the gun," Block said. "The picture is removed, and it shouldn't have been put up."
On the question of whether corporate management was unhappy that the editors had spoken with Fiedler, Block said he had no reason to think that.
I also spoke briefly to Inquirer editor Stan Wischnowski, who said he didn't know for certain whether the corporate offices were aware Thursday that the editors' had scheduled an interview with Fiedler. He said he hadn't heard they were displeased that the conversation had occurred, and didn't know anything about Fiedler's picture being posted.