“We have fewer than five years to make fundamental changes in our business, our products, our operations and our culture,” the paper’s top managers wrote last month in an urgent, eight-page report sent to all newsroom employees, titled “Unlocking a New Era of Inquirer Journalism.”
Citing plummeting ad revenues and circulation figures, the Inky’s managers wrote, “At our current trajectory, we know that in five years we will be buried under a debt load that will be next to impossible to overcome.” The report was issued after Inky managers met off-site over a period of four months for weekly “intensive half-day sessions” to “identify a common vision for our future.”
It’s a future that, according to the report, looks ominous. “As we enter this pivotal phase of our transformation,” the managers wrote, “we must all contemplate the worst case: What happens if The Inquirer fails?” Then, after discussing the rapid increase of news deserts, the managers wrote, “We must not let this happen in Philadelphia, the birthplace of the First Amendment.”
The dire management report comes just three years after the late philanthropist H.F. “Gerry” Lenfest supposedly safeguarded the future of the paper by donating the for-profit Philadelphia Media Network, owner of the Inquirer, Daily News, and the former Philly.com website (now known as Inquirer.com), to the nonprofit Institute for Journalism in New Media, which is part of a larger nonprofit, the Philadelphia Foundation.
The five-year plan calls for “driving down legacy costs” — otherwise known as print journalism — and transforming the Inky newsroom into a “more nimble, agile” digital operation, which will obviously require the cooperation of the company’s journalists and other staff.
Meanwhile, the Inky’s latest circulation figures remain in steep decline. As of May 7th, the circulation of the daily Inquirer, which once stood at 373,892 copies in 2002, was down to 101,818. Sunday circulation has dropped over that same period from 747,969 in 2002 down to 201,024. The circulation of the Daily News has dwindled to 19,192. And behind its pay wall the former Philly.com website had only 30,000 paid subscribers.