The Philadelphia Inquirer Wants Digital Focus from New Sports Editor

A few weeks ago, Philadelphia Inquirer editor Gabriel Escobar announced the departure of longtime sports editor Pat McLoone, who had been with the paper since the 1980s. This news came in the form of a memo sent to staff, which read, in part:

“Pat McLoone, an accomplished newsroom leader whose distinguished career in journalism has always been in the service of Philadelphia, is leaving The Inquirer, effective Jan. 31.

The decision is based on the need to greatly accelerate the digital transformation of sports coverage in 2021. We have a talented sports staff that deeply appreciates our coverage. Now we need to increase the pace of innovation and experiment with new features – including data, interactives, and tools for fans – so we can drive subscriptions in an intensely competitive environment.

The way the memo was worded made it seem like the decision definitely was not McLoone’s, and he said this in a statement to Crossing Broad following the announcement:

“It’s been a great run. I started at the Daily News weeks before Tug McGraw struck out Willie Wilson in 1980. I have worked with so many talented people. I have plenty of gas left in the tank and look forward to my next opportunity.”

So basically what happened here is that McLoone was forced out after the changes were made at the very top. That all stems from the fallout that took place after the Buildings Matter, Too headline, which resulted in a newsroom revolt and Stan Wischnowski’s resignation. The paper is making wholesale changes that now extend to the sports department.

Not surprisingly, the sports editor job posting says a LOT about digital and online presence, as new media trends take us away from print:

“The Philadelphia Inquirer is seeking a Managing Editor to lead sports coverage in one of the most dynamic sports cities in the United States. The journalist in this masthead-level position will lead a talented, award-winning team of reporters, columnists and editors whose primary responsibility is covering the five professional sports franchises in a city and region known for its passionate and knowledgeable fans. The editor will be charged with significantly expanding our online audience by developing and implementing a comprehensive digital coverage strategy. The overarching aim is to dominate in an intensely competitive market.”

I sent out a couple of messages to “sources.” Did some journalism.

It would seem as though the business model right now is focused on adding digital subscriptions, which I think we already knew. The Inquirer had been offering all sorts of different deals over the past year or two in order to drive subs and make money that way. They were basically giving subs away for nothing. Some folks I spoke to behind the scenes say the company is struggling to “sell” because they sort of have one foot in digital and one foot in print, and as a result, none of the sections are delivering.

Therefore, you bring in this new editor, narrow the focus to the web, and work on the revenue model that way, because the halcyon days of traditional print advertising are long gone. Papers have been on the decline for many years now and the Inky/Daily News/ triumvirate always seemed to be organized in a funky fashion that never really maximized revenue or content for any one of those entities. Kind of like Howie Roseman, Doug Pederson, and Carson Wentz.

If I had to guess, I think the new editor will be a woman, likely an external hire, and/or POC. The Inquirer got slammed in that recent report about diversity at the company, and this was written in the paper’s breakdown of the findings:

“Inside the newsroom as of August, women accounted for nearly half of the journalists, and they are overwhelmingly white. Among a handful of journalists of color who are editors, there are no Latinx women. The sports desk is all male.”

The last woman to work in the Inquirer sports department was Sarah Todd, who departed for the Deseret News about two years ago. (Edit – Actually I’m wrong; Erin McCarthy worked in sports, but she was moved to news and hasn’t come back to sports.) If the company is going to turn around its reputation for being too male and too white, then here’s an opportunity.

This whole thing is fascinating though, isn’t it? Are they going to move towards some Athletic type model? How much longer is it even worth keeping the print side around? Does anybody under the age of 55 even buy the newspaper anymore?

I might apply for this sports editor job. I would immediately re-assign all of the Eagles writers to the Philadelphia Union beat, then promote Keith Pompey to deputy editor. It would be #DeputyEditorFlow.