Why the Inquirer is replacing Philly.com

On the eve of its 190th birthday, the region’s largest newspaper is making a huge online change.

inky
Flickr Creative Commons

After more than two decades, the Philly.com era ends this weekend.

If you visit the site today, you’ll notice the new look. It’s not the page layout or the font or the photo quality or the bylines. It’s also not or the number of articles you can read before the paywall kicks in (sorry).

The change is subtle, but existential. It’s most visible at the top of the page, which now states in simple black lettering, “The Philadelphia Inquirer.” And there’s another major adjustment:

Instead of Philly.com, the address bar shows Inquirer.com.

For those worried about people not knowing how to spell the latter word — and there has already been much handwringing about it on social media — there’ll be no need to type it in. All article pages and bookmarks will automatically redirect to the new domain. You can still poke out p-h-i-l-l-y dot com and end up in the same exact place.

‘All hands on deck’

The URL switch is permanent. It’s part of a wholesale rebranding for the company formerly known as the Philadelphia Media Network. Comprising Philly.com, the Philadelphia Daily News and the Inky, the entire organization will now officially be called The Philadelphia Inquirer, LLC.

Announced to subscribers a couple of days ago, the branding change has been in various stages of planning since 2017, and is the product of more than six months of intense work, according to marketing VP Megan Parzych.

“Everybody’s been working on this, it’s been all hands on deck,” Parzych told Billy Penn, describing the effort as the result of a collaborative decision by the executive team to move forward with the facelift.

“If you could feel the energy in the building right now, people are buzzing, people are excited,” she said.

The media company also recently revealed plans to offer buyouts to dozens of employees in an attempt to cut costs. Parzych characterized the branding changes as part of the same effort — one that ensures the longevity of the news organization going forward. “It’s about moving toward one brand, one mission,” she said.

What do the changes entail? As hinted at by the parent company name update, the Inquirer brand is fully absorbing its sister entities — at least online.

It will hoover up the social media accounts that used to go by @phillydotcom and @phillydailynews. Instagram and Facebook had already been merged by Saturday; the Twitter migration is underway (“They don’t move fast,” Parzych said of the tweet platform).

The Daily News, which has existed side-by-side with the Inquirer under the same umbrella since the 1950s, will live on in print only. Nothing will change about that printed tabloid or its distribution, Parzych confirmed.

‘Risky’ or a necessary clarification?

Few people sought out the Daily News brand on the internet, anyway. There’s been a Philly.com newsroom since the early 2000s, and despite some internal power struggles and leadership changes along the way, it has become the accepted online face of the region’s largest news organization.

So why in the world is Inquirer dropping it? It’s a question raised by critics both inside and outside the company.

Currently, Philly.com is one of the globe’s 10,000 most-visited websites and has a “domain authority” score of 90/100. These impressive metrics were pointed out by Kyle Scott of the blog Crossing Broad. He snarked that the company is “rebranding their website to reflect the dying newspaper brand” and expressed doubts about whether its valuable search engine ranking could be retained.

Those fears were echoed by a longtime staffer at the media organization, who spoke on condition of anonymity.

“I think it’s a risky move,” the person said. “The old heads seem to believe there is cachet in the Inquirer brand, but is reveling in the past a good idea when marketing news?”

Another newsroom staff member said they were reserving judgement, while a third defended the switch, referencing the confusion over having three different entities squashed into a single news organization. “I do think clarity of the brand is important for our success and survival,” the person said.

The NewsGuild of Greater Philadelphia union, which is in a protracted battle with management, offered a sarcastic rebuttal to the branding swap, saying that the pending buyouts and potential layoffs to follow “sure sound like change to us.”

According to Parzych, the Inquirer is fully prepared on the search engine front, as SEO was “the cornerstone” of a lot of the discussions around the pending change.

“We have thought about this,” Parzych said, acknowledging that the site will likely take a brief hit in the rankings. “Within three months — and you could talk to anybody in any industry — if you have your i’s dotted and your t’s crossed with Google, within three months you can get back to where you were pre-change.”

Search is generally one of the main ways news sites attract visitors, outpacing social media referrals. But the people who come via search don’t exhibit a lot of loyalty, which is what a news site would want if it’s looking to increase subscribers — i.e. people who run into the paywall often enough that they’ll cave and fork over the $15/month to get unlimited access. Growing revenue from digital subscribers is a big focus at the Inquirer right now, Parzych said.

Changing one letter — and the whole tone

The new site and social media accounts boast a refreshed logo for the company, featuring an updated “I” on the word “Inquirer.” It’s an understandable move, since the old one looked more like a “V” or a “Y.”

While the design tweak may seem small, “internally it was a big deal, because it represents who we are,” Parzych said. “It’s definitely a little more sleek, a little bit more modern — but not losing the iconic brand.”

The rollout was timed to align with the newspaper’s 190th birthday.

One of the three oldest surviving print publications in the country, the Philadelphia Inquirer was founded in June 1829 by John R. Walker and John Norvell. The latter man is the source of the paper’s moniker, which comes from this quote:

“In a free state, there should always be an inquirer asking on behalf of the people.”

That motto informs a newly spicy tagline for the rebranded company. Answering the question of why “an Inquirer” seeks out information, it uses a phrase that’s relatively brash for the once-staid periodical: “Because they give a damn.”

damn

The tone shift was entirely on purpose, per Parzych, who said it was intended to catch people’s attention and also “infuse some of the proud DNA” of the Daily News into the combined brand.

“Internally, it’s made people excited because, you know, we do give a damn. Philadelphia gives a damn, right?” she said. “We were really trying to encapsulate the passion that is Philadelphia.”

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