Your support puts our investigative lens into focus
Inquirer Executive Editor Stan Wischnowski's annual letter to readers.
Dear Inquirer readers:
Today, we proudly present The Inquirer’s fourth annual “Year in Pictures” magazine, which documents, through 52 color pages and 150 images, our region’s victories and defeats, joy and pain, beauty and devastation.
The collection, culled from tens of thousands of images created in 2019, is a remarkable record of life in this place we call home. The work is testament to the talents of our visual journalists in capturing moments of meaning, and in bringing the Philadelphia region to life — and to light.
The fact is that light is at the center of everything we do. Our public service reporting strives to bring problems out of the shadows, uncover injustices, and protect and inform the citizens of our region. This has been especially true in 2019. Through our investigative lens, we have, in the last year, illuminated troubling problems that include:
*We revealed widespread abuse of boys at Glen Mills Schools, the nation’s oldest continuing reform school. “Beaten, Then Silenced” compelled the state to pull the school’s licenses, leading to the shutdown of the school and a proposed slate of sweeping state reforms.
*We have kept the spotlight on the shocking environmental hazards of the city’s aging schools, first brought to light as part of our "Toxic City” reporting project to which we have dedicated three years. Our reporting on new asbestos and lead risks throughout the district has galvanized parents and pressured the School District to respond.
*A series of stories highlighting the growing problem of housing theft in gentrifying Philadelphia neighborhoods has made a difference. As a direct result of this reporting, Philadelphia’s District Attorney’s Office added staff to its white-collar-crime/house-theft team, state laws were introduced to address crooked notaries, and Philadelphia instituted other safeguards to crack down on theft.
*“The Probation Trap” series showed that probation has grown unchecked in Pennsylvania, routinely punishing poverty, mental illness, and addiction. Reporters reviewed 70,000 dockets and attended 98 preliminary violation hearings in bringing to light a flawed system in which judges, working without guidelines, impose wildly different versions of justice.
Prosecutors, public defenders, advocates, and judges are leveraging our data and the solutions we highlighted to advance probation reform, including major legislation lawmakers hope to pass by early 2020.
Even against The Inquirer’s long history of difference-making journalism — recognized by 20 Pulitzer Prizes, for which we were a Local Reporting finalist this year — 2019 is a standout for the deep investigative pieces that have cast light on wrongs and brought needed change. That work is in addition to the thousands of news and feature stories we publish each year.
We have accomplished all this in one of the most difficult times for journalism. Local news outlets across the country are fighting for survival. A study by researchers at the University of North Carolina shows 1 in 4 papers has shut down since 2004. This year alone, thousands of journalism jobs have been lost, following constant losses for the past decade.
But it’s more than that. Attacks on the credibility of the press have attempted to erode the role we play as a watchdog on our institutions and a provider of a free flow of the information so essential to democracy.
The Inquirer is built in a way that leaves us beholden to no corporate shareholders or Wall Street hedge funds. We are owned by the nonprofit Lenfest Institute for Journalism and organized as a for-profit public benefit corporation. This novel structure assures our independence and defines our mission: to serve the public with essential news and information, to represent the public’s interest in the affairs of government and institutions, and to provide a platform for public conversation on the issues that affect the region and the world. But this does not insulate us from the financial hardships affecting the news industry.
The Lenfest Institute provides us an opportunity to accelerate innovative ways to fund the work we do. With significant losses of traditional advertising revenues that supported us for so long, we have become much more reliant on subscribers and donors to fund our journalism. For example, Spotlight PA was launched in June with grants from foundations and individuals to create the first statewide collaborative journalism project to cover state government and urgent statewide issues. The new 12 person investigative team, staffed primarily by Inquirer journalists, is already making a difference.
And earlier this year, thanks to funding from the National Geographic Society, the Lenfest Institute, and the William Penn Foundation, we launched a powerful collaborative reporting project on the Delaware River Watershed to chronicle the challenges it faces and how it defines our history and the way we live today.
Funders large and small make a real difference. Our work requires dogged, concentrated work by scores of professional journalists, who spend hundreds of hours digging through records, reviewing documents, and analyzing data in search of the truth about difficult subjects of local import.
As you review the year in pictures, try to imagine the year without them and without these stories. Picture the hundreds of boys at Glen Mills who would still be living in darkness, subject to physical and emotional abuse. Or the thousands of Philadelphia schoolchildren who would still be inhaling asbestos and ingesting lead in their drinking water. Imagine this region living in darkness. It’s not pleasant to contemplate, but it’s important that we do so, to know what’s at stake.
If you are a subscriber, advertiser, or regular reader, we thank you for your support. If you want to help us bring more change and shine more light, please consider supporting us by making a gift to the Lenfest Institute in support of The Inquirer’s newly established Investigative News Fund at Inquirer.com/donate.
On behalf of The Inquirer newsroom, we thank you for making this journalism possible. We do it for you, and we can’t do it without you.
Stan Wischnowski is Executive Editor and Senior Vice President of The Inquirer. Email him at AMA@inquirer.com.
5 Key Upgrades Coming in 2020
A visually vibrant, mobile-first redesign of Inquirer.com that’s focused on more reader customization and personalized options.
A 12-person politics team focused on all aspects of the 2020 election and its local, regional, and national impact.
Our first food festival, timed to the release of our annual Dining Guide in the fall.
A reinvigorated digital sports report as Sports Illustrated editor Shemar Woods joins our team in January.
The addition of more voices to our Opinion pages and the establishment of a community board.
How to Give
As a public benefit corporation, The Philadelphia Inquirer is dedicated to producing the kind of essential journalism that engages communities and changes lives. We are owned by the nonprofit Lenfest Institute for Journalism, which prevents us from having to maximize profits for Wall Street shareholders, but it does not insulate us from the financial hardships affecting the news industry as a whole. The support of subscribers and donors like you helps sustain and enhance our journalism, ensuring that we continue to cover critical stories well into the future. Please learn more about supporting The Inquirer’s Investigative News Fund by making a tax-deductible donation to The Lenfest Institute at Inquirer.com/donate. Subscribe: inquirer.com/subscribe.