Immaculatan staff investigates the Philadelphia Inquirer headquarters and explores the real world of journalism
After only a few phone calls made by Editor-in-Chief Charles McKinney, seven members of the Immaculatan staff ventured on February 12th to visit the headquarters of the venerable Philadelphia Inquirer, located on North Broad Street in downtown Philadelphia.
The elegant marble, brass, and iron of the lobby heralded the staff back to the era of its construction in 1925. Sally Downey, an obituary staff writer, served as the tour guide; when asked how she found herself writing death notices for a living, she cited her degree in History from Rosemont College and likened the recording of a person’s life to a “minihistory.” Like many other staff writers, Downey also writes for other sections on a variety of topics.
The Immaculatan staff first came to a glass enclosure shaped and decorated as a fishbowl, complete with a large fish dubbed the painfully punny ‘Osama Fin Laden’. Inside the office, the Editorial Staff interviewed Joe Banner, President of the Philadelphia Eagles. Downey explained that the Editorial Board “meets with the movers and shakers of the city and endorses candidates.”
Most of the bustle occurs in the former location of the printing plant (which now functions in Conshohocken), a gigantic open space with high ceilings for the seemingly endless rows of desks, which the Immaculatan staff viewed aerially from the second floor landing. Balanced between the respectful quiet of a library and the stereotypical frantic clacking of typing prevailed a character of constant, determined focus. In fact, the staff often works from the earliest hours of the morning until 11:15 at night, when the paper goes to press.
The cubicles often reflected the personalities of the department, with pop culture memorabilia overflowing on the desks of entertainment writers, plant life surrounding the environmental writers, and maps and travel brochures decked out on the walls of the travel department. Each department shared one common feature, though: books and periodicals were stacked everywhere.
While many reporters and photographers had vacated their cubicles to find stories “out on the street,” many columnists remained in a midday struggle to submit a completed story by the day’s end. Around 3:30 in the afternoon, editors from each department met in a boardroom to discuss stories and accompanying graphics for the next day’s paper.
Much to the amusement of the Immaculatan staff, the Inquirer staff discussed a feature for its Sunday issue about the phenomenon of Facebook users’ “Top Twenty-Five Things,” which one editor ruminated as either “the height of narcissism” or just the reality of “new social networking.”
In continuing the tour, the staff observed the framed microfilms of notable first pages that lined the walls of the second floor landing, demonstrating just how much the paper has changed since its inception in 1829 (making it the nation’s third oldest paper). In the issue breaking the news of President Lincoln’s assassination, tiny text filled the entire page, save for a sketch of John Wilkes Booth (a photograph would have been too costly) and a mere diagram of the theatre.
It also cost a full 73 cents less than a 2009 paper. Still, the cost of an Inquirer barely covers the cost of its ink and paper; most revenue comes from advertisements.
However, not just the look of the paper has changed. Downey also revealed framed photographs of the office from years past, in which females remained entirely absent. Even at the board meeting, less than a third in attendance were female.
Furthermore, Downey conceded that online news and blogs have posed a threat to the livelihood of newspapers, which served as one of many reasons to shift the focus of the paper away from global news towards the region, which includes suburban Philadelphia as well as southern New Jersey.
The Immaculatan staff found themselves exposed to more than just a large-scale operation; the devotion of the Inquirer reporters to their craft was nothing short of inspiring. Said Editor-in-Chief Charles McKinney, “The Philadelphia Inquirer field trip experience remained an adventurous and unique experience for all of us in attendance.
I have never even toured a real newsroom before, let alone witnessed the day-to-day operations of a prominent newspaper such as the Inquirer. I hope this experience will be only one of many more field trips to come as the newspaper staff continues to aim for higher and better ways to grow and expand its student-run organization.”