It’s been a busy year in Philly media: NBC10’s camera operators went on strike, Channel 3 revamped its lineup and news startups blossomed.
Oh, and the region’s largest newsrooms merged with themselves, and promptly laid off a chunk of staff right before Thanksgiving.
So much news about news! Without further ado, here’s Billy Penn’s look at the Year in Philly Journalism:
Katie Fehlinger strikes back after pregnancy shaming
Philly’s TV people have a special relationship with viewers, one that lapses occasionally into profanity and objectification. Our own Anna Orso wrote about how women who cover sports have dealt with this; Channel 3’s meteorologist Katie Fehlinger ably handled a version of it this August, as well. The weathercaster went on-air as her pregnancy developed. And of course, Philly TV viewers called her a “sausage in casing” and said “sticking your pregnant abdomen out like that is disgusting.” Fehlinger struck back in a Facebook post in August that rightfully chided her audience to mind its manners; the post went viral, drawing more than 100,000 likes and coverage everywhere from People Magazine to the Today show. And on Sept. 22, she gave birth to twins, Parker Janice and Kaeden Faye.
Breakfast on Broad begins
This year, Comcast decided to marry Philadelphia’s infatuation with sports with a TV show covering just that, and the The Comcast Network’s Breakfast on Broad was born. With hosts Jillian Mele, Sarah Baicker, Barrett Brooks and Rob Ellis, the show debuted in April. It’s already drawing viewers; as our own Mark Dent reported, the show was averaging about a .2 rating between its live early morning airing on the Comcast Network and the repeat of it at 11 a.m. on Comcast Sports Network. Its viewership had increased 20 percent when we reported that in September. And if it goes well, BoB could be a model for other cities where Comcast has a Sports Network, like New England or Chicago.
The Philly Voice speaks
Fresh from the sale of the Inquirer and Daily News to philanthropist Gerry Lenfest, South Jersey power broker George Norcross plowed the profits into a startup that’s approaching its first birthday: PhillyVoice.com. The site also launched with a conflict of interest policy: It vowed to “publish original staff editorial content concerning those entities or individuals” that own the site, in a nod to its powerful funder. The site was powered by a trio of Philly.com producers — Matt Romanoski, Bob McGovern and Leah Kauffman. But Kauffman departed for ad agency 50onRed in September, and it looks as though that three-way editorial leadership has been a bit streamlined, with Romanoski taking an executive editor title over the entire operation. And you can probably expect more political scoops, like the Voice’s first report that President Obama would visit Camden, or that candidate Ken Trujillo was dropping out of the mayor’s race. When Mayor-elect Jim Kenney won the Democratic primary, his first meeting was with Norcross, who’s also booked time with City Council President Darrell Clarke. How’s traffic been? In a statement, Philly Voice Executive Director Lexie Norcross, addressed that:
“Since our launch in January, PhillyVoice.com has experienced tremendous audience growth. By the end of December, PhillyVoice.com will have served over 7 million users. We look forward to building on this momentum in 2016 as we focus on providing unique and forward-thinking content, expanding our social media presence and continually improving the user experience of the site.”
Philly Citizen’s stunt(s)
Speaking of start-ups backed by Philly-area political powerhouses, the long-gestating Philadelphia Citizen launched in September. The project, backed by Dilworth Paxson CEO Ajay Raju, was previously confined to a series of wonky dinner discussions at Raju’s home, as well as a newsletter and a blog. But the Citizen’s schtick, so far, has been stunts: Let’s hold a lottery and pay someone who votes $10,000! Let’s send a bus full of young Philly leaders to crash the PA Society! Otherwise, the site looks good — we particularly like the “Do Something” tab at the top of every story.
Philly Mag’s cover controversy (again)
A Philadelphia Magazine cover sparked accusations that the publication only caters to whites. Wait, what year are we reviewing again? No, this isn’t the “Being White in Philly” controversy of 2013; this is the “A City Parent’s Guide to Schools” cover from this past October. In a majority minority city, the magazine organized a photo shoot featuring seven adorable kids from the Albert L. Greenfield school on its cover — all of whom were white none of whom were African American. The issue drew coverage from the Posts Huffington and Washington. Editor Tom McGrath apologized; the Philadelphia Association of Black Journalists asked for his resignation (they didn’t get it). Several organizations held forums explaining how the error happened, which Philly Mag dutifully covered online. Interestingly, for all that furor, the November December print edition (which dealt with racial profiling on the Main Line) did not mention the flub at all briefly addressed the controversy on page 10. As part of McGrath’s apology, he promised to add a staffer of color by the winter; Billy Penn can confirm that longtime Philly Mag contributor Sandy Smith has joined the staff full-time.
Owners cut, merge Inquirer / Daily News / Philly.com
Philadelphia’s largest news sources got a little smaller right before Christmas, with 46 union (and an unspecified number of non-union employees) layoffs hit the company. It’s part of new Publisher Terry Egger’s plan to merge operations at the Inquirer, the Daily News and Philly.com. So now we’re seeing one story run in two newspapers with two different headlines, clearing up some of the intramural competition fostered among the entities over the years (and giving nobody the reason to subscribe to both). Nobody’s sure where all this is going, but the trend line for print papers in general doesn’t look good — and as we’ve reported, owner Gerry Lenfest seems keen to turn the place into a nonprofit, perhaps allied in some way with Temple University.
Generocity: Under new ownership
Local news site Generocity.org, which focuses its reporting on sustainability and neighborhoods in Philadelphia, moved into the Technically Philly family of websites earlier this year. In the process, the site got a new editor — Star newspapers’ Julie Zeglen — and a new reporter, Technically Delaware’s Tony Abraham. Former interim executive director Mo Manklang stayed on through the transition, and is now the site’s Community Manager.
Spirit Newspapers plot expansion
Temple grads Max Pulcini and Matthew Albasi took over the Spirit of the Riverwards, a community newspaper in Fishtown, back in 2014. They relaunched it, with a sleek look both in print and online. And apparently things are going well enough for them to broaden their efforts: The duo launched a $15,000 Kickstarter in November to start a newspaper in an area they’re calling “Penn’s Garden” — the neighborhoods of Brewerytown, Fairmount, Francisville, Spring Garden, Strawberry Mansion, North Central, Ludlow and Poplar. A little less than a week before Christmas, they hit their fundraising goal; the partners plan to launch the new Spirit of Penn’s Garden late next month.
WHYY shake-up sees exec leave after PlanPhilly’s acquisition
Top news executive Chris Satullo left WHYY and the news organization he built, NewsWorks, rather abruptly earlier this year. A short time later, PlanPhilly’s chief editor, Inquirer alum Matt Golas, resigned. Reporting revealed the duo had been cooking up an expansion of the planning site’s ambitions, with money already paid to explore a site called PlanBurgh. Instead, with Satullo and Golas gone, the PlanBurgh money needed to be returned. Satullo landed a job as Professional in Residence at UPenn’s Annenberg Public Policy Center. And WHYY is conducting a nationwide search for his replacement.
Pope Francis’ visit was maybe an inopportune time for Channel 10 to lose its full-time videographers to a strike. So of course, that’s what happened. On Sept. 24, members of IBEW 98 (Johnny Doc’s union!) walked off the job. And then the drama started. Union reps staged press conferences aimed at getting on competitors’ air, accused the station of breaking Homeland Security rules, and even photobombed the Today show in New York City. A new contract got signed on Oct. 17, but not after a few weird weeks.
Channel 3’s news staff looks a lot different at the end of 2015. Out: Evening news anchors Chris May, Beasely Reece and Kathy Orr, as well as news director Susan Schiller, and station staples Pat Ciarrocci and Carol Erickson, among other departures. Promoted: Early-day team Ukee Washington, Jessica Dean and Kate Bilo. In: general assignment reporter Alexandra Hoff, weathercaster Lauren Casey and traffic reporter Meisha Johnson. It’s the brainchild of new GM Brien Kennedy, who salvaged ratings for the CBS station out in Minneapolis — and is looking to import that magic formula to the much larger Philadelphia TV market.
City Paper closes
Pour one out for Philadelphia alt-weekly, the City Paper. It had been run these last few years by freebie daily Metro. But at the end of September, the City Paper’s staff read a press release posted by the Northeast Times; they’d been sold, and their next issue would be their last. Broad Street Media, which owns the Northeast Times and longtime CP competitor Philly Weekly, had acquired its intellectual rights in order to shut it down. It’s been a brutal few years for alternative weekly newspapers; The San Francisco Bay Guardian, the Boston Phoenix, the (Columbus, Ohio) Other Paper and the (Knoxville, Tennessee) Metro Pulse have all shut down over the last four years, as journalism watchdog site Poynter.org noted.
Billy Penn wins startup of the year
Three Philadelphia startups were finalists in this year’s Philadelphia Geek Awards, an annual event that packs the house at the Academy of Natural Sciences. We were, frankly, honored to be named alongside red-hot educational funding finder Scholly and Brewerytown nonprofit coffee cafe the Monkey and the Elephant. But we were blown away to receive the award, and we’re tickled to have won Startup of the Year. Expect big things from us in 2016, as we look to grow our staff into new coverage areas and, we hope, continue to surprise you with how we do journalism.