How not to follow a Pulitzer

    I was working at the Philadelphia Daily News when the company filed for bankruptcy, and I was there when an earlier corporate parent, Knight-Ridder put the paper up for sale.

    I dare say there was less dismay in the newsroom on those days than yesterday, when the company’s CEO named former Philadelphia Magazine editor Larry Platt as editor of the Daily News and announced the “the transformation of the Daily News into a loud, irreverent and fun tabloid.”

    I wasn’t at the paper yesterday, but my friends there tell me the atmosphere in the newsroom when the changes were announced was grim.

    One staffer pointed out to company chief Greg Osberg that the paper had just won a Pulitzer Prize by solid reporting and writing about people who count on the Daily News to listen to them and give voice to their concerns.

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    I’m told Osberg chirped that the Pulitzer series was “loud,” which didn’t exactly win anybody over.

    I’ve always had a friendly relationship with Platt – we both filled in as hosts for WHYY’s Radio Times in years past – but I have reservations about seeing him run the Daily News.

    It seemed whenever I read a piece in Philadelphia Magazine that covered terrain I knew in recent years, I’d notice errors of fact and context.

    A 2007 Philly Mag piece about mayoral candidate Tom Knox included a really sloppy error about a story I’d written years before in the Daily News, essentially saying I’d gotten the story wrong. The author hadn’t even bothered to check the clips.

    I e-mailed both the author and Platt about it. I never got a reply or saw a correction.

    And there was the piece the magazine published about the 2002 murder of a husband and wife in Chester County, speculating it had been a murder-suicide, and that one of the couple’s children had hidden the weapon, either to avoid shame or for some financial motive.

    I’m aware of how shoddy a story it was because one of the children was my friend, Daily News reporter Bob Warner, who spoke to the writer as he was reporting the piece. Bob later kept a list of all the factual errors and misrepresentations in the story for anyone who asked.

    After the real murderer was arrested, Inquirer columnist Mark Bowden wrote about how hurtful the Philly Mag story was. Platt defended it as “good reporting.”

    I hope my reservations are ill-founded and that Platt rises to the challenge of leading a paper with a great tradition of dogged reporting and great writing.

    He might begin by telling his talented staff that he understands the paper doesn’t need a transformation to become “loud, irreverent and fun.” It’s all that and more already.

    What it needs is somebody who’ll keep its commitment to solid, meaningful reporting on a community that counts on it.

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