Inquirer, Daily News to merge: What it means for its readers

There are big changes ahead at the Inquirer, the Daily News and Philly.com.

Publisher Terry Egger addressed the staffs of the publications today, at the end of his first month in the job. He’s seeking some $5 million in savings over the next three years. To do that, he wants to merge them. He’ll get there through layoffs, both in the Newspaper Guild and management.

What’s that mean? For readers, it may not be easy to tell.

Right now, it’s not uncommon to see an Inquirer reporter and a Daily News reporter both attend the same news conference by Mayor Michael Nutter, or the same day of the trial of Chaka Fattah, Jr.

In some ways the change has already begun; features content has been published in both the Inquirer and the Daily News. (Technically, the Daily News is an edition of the Inquirer, a change initiated by former publisher Brian Tierney to save money on wire service contracts.)

“The Inquirer might break news in culture, and the Daily News doesn’t cover that,” said the Daily News’ Howard Gensler, president of the local branch of the Newspaper Guild. “Features is the easiest place to try a merger, and so far it’s been going adequately well.”

Once you get out of fluff, though, things get complicated.

“It’s not like news, where people are trying to beat the other person and people don’t have sources, it’s a completely different animal,” Gensler notes. “In sports, a whole different ballgame also. The Daily News sells a lot of its papers based on sports. If we merged the two departments… are people going to be less interested in buying the Daily News for sports if they can read the same thing in the Inquirer?”

What happens now

Gensler explained that Philadelphia Media Network management must formally give the Newspaper Guild 15 days notice, under its new contract, if there are layoffs scheduled. But naturally, that’s complicated.

“If there are open jobs in the company, the company is supposed to place people who are to be laid off in jobs they can perform. We have to go through a seniority list with the company so people can bounce back to jobs they previously had,” Gensler said. “It means if there’s going to be a layoff in reporters, and one of those reporters used to be a graphic artist or a photographer, and that reporter has more seniority than others, then the company is supposed to place them back in those positions.”

That results in confusion.

“When there’s a layoff, there’s a rolling tidal wave of bounces… You lay off people over here, and you lose people over here,” Gensler said. “The whole thing is set up to make it difficult to lay people off, to try to keep people in the company who have given or have spent a lot of time to make the company better.”

Full disclosure: Chris Krewson is the former executive editor, online at The Inquirer, and has many friends still employed by the Philadelphia Media Network.

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