One of the best things about Facebook is being able to seeing the daily breaking news from one’s journalism professor from 20 years ago. Today, my teacher (for he will always be my teacher, for I learn something new from him each day) posted a quote from Bill Marimow, the once and twice upon a time editor extraordinaire of The Philadelphia Inquirer.
After 18 months, and after the local papers were sold once again, Bill Marimow will be returning to the helm as the editor of my beloved Philadelphia Inquirer.
Here’s why I smiled when I read the news today (oh, boy):
This is the sort of post one usually writes when someone dies, but in this case my subject is very much alive.
He is, however, a casuality of an industry under siege, undergoing great change. Which makes him in the eyes of some akin to a dinosaur.
I speak of one Bill Marimow, who recently made news himself when it was announced on October 7 that he was demoted as editor of The Philadelphia Inquirer. A story that is newsworthy because the newspapers’ new publishers apparently felt that Marimow didn’t have enough of a digital background to continue at the helm of the publication.
I’ve been wanting to write about this from a journalistic perspective (even though my journalism days are two decades ago) and from a personal one, but I haven’t quite been able to find the right words. I’ve read a lot about this and the best piece thus far is one that, ironically, was just shared by my own former journalism professor via Facebook. (I know. The irony isn’t escaping me.)
Rob Curley echoes so much of my own feelings about Bill Marimow and what happened last week, and he does so incredibly well in his post: “Thoughts on Marimow: What being ‘not digital enough’ means.”
Like Mr. Curley, I also had the privilege and the honor of being in Bill Marimow’s company. Well, not exactly in person (although there might have been one occasion, now that I think about it) but rather via another relic from a bygone era: a push-button, non-cordless, nowhere near smart phone.
As an English/communications major, that same former journalism professor required all such majors take a course called Career Development. Among our assignments was to find someone in our chosen profession who would be kind enough to talk with a graduating-in-a-recession college senior and give us an information interview.
During high school, I worked at our town’s library and became close with the staff, including a woman named Pam. She lived close to my college and every so often she would call to see if I needed a breather from collegiate life. She’d treat me to Pie in the Sky pizza, I’d treat her to the latest saga in my love life, and we would spend an afternoon talking about books and our classes (she was going back to school) and pondering life in general. She was a wonderful, positive influence on me during those days, a reminder of home.
So it was that I happened to mention this assignment to her, this requirement of needing to find someone in the communications field to talk to. Turns out, Pam’s then-significant other C. played racquetball with someone who might fit the bill.
“He’s a reporter at the Inquirer, pretty accomplished,” she offered. “A great guy. His name’s Bill Marimow.”
Sure, I said. And shortly thereafter, the phone rang.
I wish I could find the required paper I had to write because 20 years later, I don’t remember a word of advice that Mr. Marimow gave me. But I do remember the length of time he spent on the phone with me (probably at least a half hour, probably longer).
I remember feeling like I was the most important person he would talk to all week.
I remember him answering all my questions – whatever they were.
The only regret I have about that conversation is that I wish I knew how lucky I was to be speaking to one of journalism’s giants. (And that I didn’t keep in better touch. Marimow, who is the winner of two Pulitzers, would go on to be editor of the Baltimore Sun before coming full circle back to his hometown of Philadelphia as editor of the Inquirer.)
The phrase “class act” has been used in several articles (including Rob Curley’s) about Bill Marimow, and even though I know him from just that phone call, I believe it to be true. Indeed, that describes how he is handling what has to be an incredibly awkward personal and professional situation. (He is still staying on at the Inquirer in the capacity as an investigative reporter.)
The new owners of The Inquirer are within their rights to surround themselves with the people they feel will best move the paper forward. But there is something inherently sad about this. It feels like we’re putting profits before people, sacrificing the story for something shiny. I wonder what the cost will be, how many more Bill Marimows we will lose by following this this new playbook.
I don’t wonder about Bill Marimow himself, though. He’ll be just fine. He’ll somehow find a new path in these uncertain and unprecedented times.
Just as he had a role in helping me find mine.
Congratulations, Bill. And welcome back home.