Philadelphia Inquirer editor Bennett resigns; Marimow to take over

Joseph N. DiStefano and Miriam Hill
The Philadelphia Inquirer

Bill Marimow

PHILADELPHIA - The Philadelphia Inquirer's new editor, Bill Marimow, returned to a hero's welcome today in the newsroom where he won two Pulitzer Prizes decades ago.

Facing a costly fall in national advertising and tough union contract talks, Marimow warned of "painful" staff cuts and narrower horizons at a paper that once prided itself on national and foreign coverage as well as in-depth local reporting.

"We have to figure out how to thrive in an era of reduced resources," Marimow told reporters and editors crowding the paper's newsroom and an overhanging balcony, as he stood beside the paper's publisher and co-owner, Brian P. Tierney, and Marimow's predecessor, Amanda Bennett.

Tierney said that as many as 150 of the 415 Inquirer newsroom jobs could be cut, though "it doesn't have to be that bad" if he gets savings from new union contracts, changes to vendor contracts, and advertising sales.

"I need some breathing room," Tierney said. Among other concessions, he wants to freeze pensions for newsroom, advertising and circulation workers. The Newspaper Guild of Greater Philadelphia, which represents the workers, opposes the freeze.

Marimow called for "excellent" and "indispensable" competitive journalism - online, audio and print. He promised a "collegial" newsroom. He said Tierney, an advertising professional, would help "figure out how to promote the great material our staff is producing."

That material will focus on the Philadelphia area, Marimow added. Although that will still include larger stories, he said, "we will no longer be sending battalions of staffers to cover news like Hurricane Katrina and the war in Baghdad."

Marimow is replacing Amanda Bennett, who had been assigned the job under the paper's former owner, Knight Ridder Inc., in 2003. Tierney's group, Philadelphia Media Holdings LLC, bought The Inquirer, the Philadelphia Daily News and for $515 million, the majority of it borrowed, last spring.

Bennett said she will be a visiting fellow at Columbia University in New York. Tierney said the decision for Bennett to step down as editor was "mutual."

In another shift, editorial page editor Chris Satullo will now report directly to publisher Tierney. He formerly reported to editor Bennett.

Satullo said he welcomed the shift, which he'd recommended to former Inquirer publisher Joe Natoli. He added that Tierney, "so far," has made less effort to influence editorial page policy than his predecessors.

Tierney is a former Republican Party fund-raiser and organizer, but he has said he would take no part in party politics now that he is in the news business. Tierney also has a personal stake in one of the contentious issues that the paper's editorial pages cover: He is an investor in one of the companies that is trying to build a gambling casino in Philadelphia over the objections of neighborhood groups.

Tierney praised Marimow's "passion for this region." Marimow, 59, said he "couldn't be happier" to be back in Philadelphia.

The son of a Havertown bicycle store owner, Marimow graduated from Trinity College and worked at the former Evening Bulletin before joined The Inquirer in 1972. He moved rapidly through a series of beats. He won two Pulitzers for his investigations of abuses by police, one in 1977 in partnership with Jonathan Neumann, now an editor at Bloomberg L.P., and a second in 1985.

Marimow was also lead reporter for the paper's coverage of the 1986 bombing of the MOVE house in West Philadelphia. He later served as city editor, and as assistant to then-publisher Robert Hall. "I thought the world of him," said Hall, who has served as a consultant to the paper's new owners. "He's a can-do guy, a totally rounded person."

Marimow was also part of the exodus of veteran Inquirer editors and reporters after the departure of editor Eugene Roberts in 1990. His return is "the best thing that has happened to journalism in Philadelphia in more than a decade," said James Naughton, a former Inquirer editor who later headed the nonprofit Poynter Institute, a journalism think tank in St. Petersburg, Fla.

In 1993, Marimow joined the Baltimore Sun as metro editor under John Carroll, another Inquirer alumnus. Marimow rose to editor-in-chief of the Sun, which won a string of Pulitzers on his watch. But he was fired after a new publisher took the helm at the Tribune Co.-owned paper in 2004.

He had opposed newsroom job cuts at the Sun. But The Inquirer is in a different situation, according to Marimow, because its profit margin is lower and the new owners, who have borrowed more than $300 million to acquire the paper, need to reduce costs.

After leaving the Sun, Marimow joined National Public Radio as vice president of news; he became the head of the growing radio service's news division. But earlier this month he surprised staffers by taking a lesser job as the radio service's ombudsman, fielding complaints from readers instead of leading reporters.

Marimow said he wrote Tierney a letter last summer after viewing the Philadelphia-centered movie "Invincible," and discussions progressed from that first contact.

"I welcome Bill back to Philadelphia," said Inquirer reporter Henry Holcomb, president of the Newspaper Guild of Greater Philadelphia, which represents advertising, newsroom and circulation workers. "He's got the talent we need and the courage to fight for the resources the times require."

Bennett joined the Inquirer in June 2003, four months before Hall left and two years before Knight Ridder Inc. decided to put The Inquirer and its 31 other daily newspapers up for sale. "We have been through one hell of a ride," Bennett told reporters, praising their "passion and journalistic integrity."

Bennett got high marks from former Inquirer publisher Joe Natoli, her boss for most of her Inquirer tenure. "Amanda led The Inquirer newsroom with integrity and grace during a difficult time in its history," said Natoli, who is now an executive at the University of Miami. "She stayed positive in the face of adversity and always tried to do the right thing for the newspaper and the community that it served."

Bennett was the paper's first female editor. She had previously served as editor of Knight Ridder Inc.'s Herald-Leader in Lexington, Ky., and as projects editor of the Oregonian newspaper, where she directed reporting that won a Pulitzer Prize. For more than 20 years, she was a reporter for the Wall Street Journal, where she covered the auto industry, the Pentagon, China, and other key beats, and served as Atlanta bureau chief.






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