Like many newspapers that once set agendas for their communities and brought in huge profits, The Philadelphia Inquirer is searching for revenue and relevance in today’s digital culture.
Photographer Will Steacy has spent four years with unrestricted access to the people and machines running the paper. His father worked at the Inquirer, and Steacy is the first in a long line in his family not to be part of the newspaper industry.
“As a descendant of five generations of newspaper men, and growing up running around the newsroom as a kid, I of course feel a close personal connection to The Philadelphia Inquirer and newspaper industry as a whole,” Steacy told CNN. Steacy's father was an editor at the Inquirer for 29 years until he was laid off in a recent round of staff cuts.
With his unique connection, he said he hoped to portray longtime journalists in a way they might not see themselves and show outsiders what goes into a daily paper during a tumultuous time.
“It is my intent to reveal the challenges and harsh realities that face the newspaper industry today,” Steacy said.
“There were times when you could feel the anxiety and stress, but with that, everyone in that newsroom is a professional and is there to do their job.”
Steacy started his ongoing project in 2009, including the newsroom move last year from the Elverson Building, a city landmark. The new building owner applied for a casino license to convert it into a hotel and put a casino in the printing press room, according to a Bloomberg report.
The paper claims to be the oldest surviving daily newspaper in the United States, but it hasn’t been immune to the nearly universal ills of American newspapers. The Internet cut the value of classified and commercial advertisements in papers, plus provided a free alternative to a daily subscription. The lost ad revenue and spiraling circulation numbers have led to layoffs and buyouts for the Inquirer staff, and ownership has changed twice over the past decade as it continues to prove to be a financial liability rather than moneymaker.
Just recently Interstate General Media, which owns the Inquirer as well as the Philadelphia Daily News and Philly.com, threatened to liquidate or sell all the news outlets if they couldn’t come to an agreement on employee contracts with unions representing the news outlet employees by Friday, according to Poynter.
But Interstate General Media and the Newspaper Guild of Greater Philadelphia announced they were to begin bargaining on a new contract on Thursday.
Despite the recent struggles, The Philadelphia Inquirer last year won its 19th Pulitzer Prize for a series on school violence.
“It was particularly inspiring to know that a newsroom with a quarter of the staff as some of the other papers whose stories were nominated, that good journalism can still be produced despite the many obstacles,” Steacy said.
As local papers disappear, Steacy said he’s concerned about the decline of ties between the community and reporting.
“As we lose reporters, editors, news beats and sections of papers, we lose coverage, information and a connection to our cities and our society, and, in the end, we lose ourselves,” Steacy wrote in his project statement.
- Lauren Russell, CNN