On Thursday, former Philadelphia Inquirer columnist Phil Sheridan went on Twitter and revealed that he cancelled his Inky subscription. It wasn’t breaking news, per se, but we shared the post because it was interesting to get an opinion on the current state of the publication from someone who worked there for more than 15 years. Sheridan cited the “decline in quality, attrition in talent and horrendous delivery” as the reasons for his cancellation.
The thread itself grew to nearly 100 replies, and a Crossing Broad reader pointed out this exchange as curious:
I suspect one problem is the loss of editors who know anything about the region. They replaced Philly icon Pat McLoone with a guy who lives in Connecticut and isn’t moving here. Good luck with that.
— Phil Sheridan (@SheridanScribe) July 8, 2021
Sheridan is talking about Michael Huang, who was recently brought in as McLoone’s replacement. Huang is a former ESPN editor who currently lives in Connecticut, where ESPN is headquartered.
We reached out to the Inquirer in regard to Sheridan’s claim that Huang “isn’t moving here” and received this statement from a spokesperson:
“Like the rest of the Inquirer newsroom, Michael Huang is working remotely during the pandemic. As the pandemic recedes, Michael intends to make the Philadelphia area his new home.”
In the process of putting this post together, we spoke to a couple of folks familiar with the Inquirer’s work situation. As of this summer, employees have not yet returned to the office on a full-time basis, and while a hard date has not been made official, they seem to think September is the target. For what it’s worth, most of the sports beat writers and columnists don’t even go into the office at all, or very rarely, since they primarily work in the field or at home and don’t have a good reason to be sitting at an office desk in the first place.
Another thing worth noting is that the Inquirer is going with a new approach in the sports department, where each of the “four major teams” will have a singular editor. Basically it’s one overseer for each of the Phillies, Flyers, Sixers, and Eagles. One source I spoke to said that one of these editors is “not being made to move,” which would contradict the above Inquirer statement, assuming it applies to all new hires. We’ll see. Sometimes you wind up with mixed messages.
The question, then, becomes this:
Does any of this even matter?
The answer is yes and no. If the sports editor or food editor of a major newspaper lives in the actual region of coverage, then they understand the local people and local culture and can make more informed decisions. But if myriad beat writers or field reporters are pounding the pavement and doing the actual journalism, then you can effectively organize and direct your respective group from afar. I can edit copy and assign stories and hold meetings from a Dunkin Donuts in Utah as long as I’ve got somebody at Lincoln Financial Field or the Wells Fargo Center at the actual game. But from an optics perspective, yeah, of course you want to get all of your new hires in this region and in the building when the pandemic subsides. It would be insane to think a major-market newspaper would have employees who don’t even live here, right?
Edit – I should probably have written this in the original story, but I do not believe Sheridan to be a bullshitter or somebody who would just make something up. That’s my take on that.
Edit 2 – Spoke to another source who said “there are going to be a ton of changes coming down the pike… it’s going to be completely different.”
Edit 3 – Got a second source to confirm that one editor will be working remotely.