“Bedrock Integrity”

Upon his retirement, longtime Inquirer editor and Pulitzer Prize winner Bill Marimow reminds us of what journalism ought to be about

“Bedrock Integrity”

Upon his retirement, longtime Inquirer editor and Pulitzer Prize winner Bill Marimow reminds us of what journalism ought to be about

A week before Christmas, the ghosts of Philly journalism past gathered at the Union League, to send one of our own, Bill Marimow, off into retirement. Marimow has had a long and storied career. Before serving as Inquirer editor under three different (drama-filled) ownership regimes over the last 13 years, he’d won two Pulitzers for his investigative reporting at the paper, ran The Baltimore Sun, where he won three Pulitzers in 10 years and fought budget cutbacks, and served as vice president for News at NPR.

Do SomethingSo it was fitting that the ornate room last week was filled with a Who’s Who from the last half-century of Philly print journalism. There was Sam McKeel, the 92-year-old former Inquirer publisher; Ron Javers, who’d been a Daily News editor before surviving nearly a decade at the helm of Philly Mag in the ‘80s (and who, as a young reporter, had been shot in the line of duty during the Jonestown mass murder-suicide in Guyana); Gene Foreman, the former Inquirer managing editor; the brilliant writer Buzz Bissinger, decked out in his signature all black, and his much-loved son, Zach; as well as a cadre of civic and political leaders, including Marguerite Lenfest, Gerry’s widow, not to mention a contingent of graying editors and reporters, telling war stories.

The evening’s hosts, the Lenfest Institute’s Jim Friedlich and Inquirer publisher Terry Egger, standing before an Institute placard that read “SAVE LOCAL NEWS,” spoke movingly of Marimow’s eloquent example through the years. They spoke of his integrity and his curiosity and his genuine affection for everyday people. All those things are true. But I’ve known Marimow since the mid-‘90s, and have watched him do public battle with a host of nemeses, from corrupt pols too numerous to name to TV producer David Simon to South Jersey power broker George Norcross.

For those of us who wrestle with our own inner McEnroe, he’s also modeled a certain way of being in the world that has gone out of vogue: Bill Marimow has never not been a gentleman.

For those of us who wrestle with our own inner McEnroe, he’s also modeled a certain way of being in the world that has gone out of vogue: Bill Marimow has never not been a gentleman.

It was fitting that, when it came his turn to speak, this man who has told more Philadelphia stories than anyone most of us know or will ever know was brief and self-effacing, paying homage to the “men and women of bedrock integrity” who built the institution he served so faithfully for much of the last half-decade. Bedrock integrity. Another notion seemingly going out of style that Bill Marimow carries in his bones.

Here are his remarks:

On my way to work this morning, I made it a point to walk down the 1000 block of Clinton Street, where Gene Roberts lived for most of the 18 years he was the executive editor of The Philadelphia Inquirer. Passing his house, of course, got me to thinking about Gene and the 47 years that have elapsed since I joined The Inquirer.

So I decided to do a little investigative reporting. Specifically, I was thinking about the fact that change has been a constant since that day in the summer of 1972 when I first walked into the newsroom on the dingy 5th floor of our old home at Broad and Callowhill.

Here’s one snippet of Inquirer history which many people my age will recall but for others this might be a revelation. On May 28, 1971—just about a year before I joined The Inquirer—The Inquirer’s former chief investigative reporter, Harry Karafin, began serving a prison sentence for blackmail and extortion, crimes he committed as a reporter in the 1960’s.

I mention this because in the years that followed, one constant here at The Read MoreInquirer, is that almost all the company’s leaders have been men and women of bedrock integrity. Throughout the challenges of those five decades—whether it was the life or death competition from the Evening Bulletin, the ups and downs of the economy, labor strife or, more recently, the onset of the digital era, these leaders have understood the critical importance of journalism—to our readers, to Philadelphia and its suburbs and to the American democracy.

This is as true today with The Inquirer’s publisher Terry Egger and the Lenfest Institute’s Jim Friedlich as it was in the era of Gene Roberts, Gene Foreman and Sam McKeel. And we should all appreciate their leadership and their commitment to public service. I said I would be brief and I will.

In closing I want to thank a few people who have paved the way for me to be here tonight:

Terry Egger and Jim Friedlich, two leaders who every day are fighting to keep journalism alive and well here at The Inquirer.

Gene Roberts, whose journalistic vision, grit, and determination transformed The Inquirer from a mediocre big city newspaper in 1972 into one of America’s best. Gene Foreman, an enormously talented editor and leader whose organization genius kept Gene Roberts’ vision on track.

Gerry Lenfest and Lewis Katz, two great businessmen and philanthropists who purchased The Inquirer when its future was in grave doubt and who went to war in court so that I could return as editor-in-chief.

Dick Sprague, who represented Gerry and Lewis, in their legal battle to become owners of The Inquirer and, at the age of 89, worked tirelessly—day and night, seven days a week—to help them prevail. In a remarkable coincidence, it was also Dick who prosecuted Harry Karafin.

Brian Tierney, who assembled a group to purchase The Inquirer in summer 2006, and loves excellent journalism and excellent journalists. It was thanks to Brian, who hired me from NPR in November, 2006, that I was able to return to my home town.

And last but by no means least, Diane—as in Diane Marimow—who has stood by me for more than 52 years and helped me savor the good times and weather the occasional storms. Thank you, Diby.

In closing, I want to leave you with one of my firmly held beliefs: In a world where change is constant, reporting and writing excellent stories is a certain path to fulfillment and to fulfilling The Inquirer’s mission.

Thank you very much.

Header: Elizabeth Robertson, The Philadelphia Inquirer

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