It happens everywhere I go: an Eagles game, my church, even a recent Neil Young concert - where a stranger recognized me as "the guy with the papers" and told me he subscribes to both of them.

Everyone is talking about the great stories in our newspapers, whether it's our recent series on the Environmental Protection Agency and the U.S. Postal Service, coverage of the Eagles' quarterback controversy, or minute-by-minute dispatches from the Fumo and Fort Dix Five trials on Philly.com.

But some aren't just talking about the great stories in The Inquirer and Daily News. They're also asking a question: Are our papers going to make it?

It's no wonder.

The news about newspapers has been deeply distressing.

The Tribune Co. has filed for bankruptcy. Detroit's daily papers are about to cut four days a week of home delivery. And we've had to make some painful cuts, too, to remain profitable - including selective layoffs in recent weeks.

But there's more to the story here in Philadelphia. And given all the bad news and anxious questions, it's time to tell some of the rest of the story.

What makes our Philadelphia newspapers different? First and foremost, we've invested heavily in the quality of our journalism. And we've been rewarded for it with faithful readership, steady growth and profitability.

About 1.2 million people physically pick up and read our papers every day. That audience compares favorably to those of many national news outlets, and it dwarfs the reach of other local media. And, contrary to conventional wisdom, 30 percent of our readers - more than 300,000 - are young people, between 18 and 34.

Our advertisers keep telling us that nothing moves their products like an ad in our newspapers.

Beyond the newspapers, Philly.com's traffic has exploded to 50 million page views a month and more than 2.3 million unique visitors. That's the direct result of the investment we've made in good journalism, technology and creativity. It's the kind of investment that pays off in readership, respect and, yes, the revenue that makes the work possible. Most important, it's the fuel that powers our democracy, providing citizens with the facts they need to make informed decisions in their daily lives.

Some may lament, "Oh, journalism has changed, and I like newspapers the way they were 25 years ago." All I can measure is how we compare to June 30, 2006, the day our local investor group took over, and I can say with certainty that our papers are better, and the research shows that, by a margin of 5-1, you agree.

Not only do we continue to provide outstanding coverage of breaking news, politics, sports and culture, but we also keep coming up with inventive ways to deliver it. From videos to blogs to live chats with reporters, we're inviting you into the conversation and giving you access to the amazing journalists who make our newspapers not just relevant, but also indispensable.

Our original news reporting sets the table for the entire region's news output, much of which derives from the work we do. No other news medium - television, radio or Web - can compare to the daily coverage produced by our approximately 400 journalists. Overall, more than 3,000 men and women sell the ads, run the presses, drive the trucks, and make the papers possible.

This is a tremendous responsibility, and we take it seriously. Without The Inquirer and Daily News, who would be exposing corruption and incompetence, celebrating athletic and artistic accomplishments, chronicling business successes and failures, and covering our city and region so thoroughly?

Among the hundreds of skilled journalists doing that is Pulitzer Prize winner Mike Vitez, one of a dozen on staff. His moving stories about people without health insurance have cast a bright, unforgiving light on our deeply flawed health-care system - and prompted government agencies to help people who had been struggling alone.

The Daily News' Kitty Caparella and Dave Davies have been exposing mismanagement at the U.S. Postal Service's Southwest Philadelphia processing plant. As a result, changes have been made.

The Inquirer's foreign-affairs columnist, Trudy Rubin, was back in Iraq last week for a series of columns on developments there.

We invested significant money and manpower to produce The Inquirer's meticulously researched recent series about the EPA. Staff writers John Shiffman, John Sullivan and Tom Avril documented the Bush administration's evisceration of the agency.

And our journalists have delivered up-to-the-minute analysis and reporting on the federal trial of former state Sen. Vince Fumo. We've also given readers unprecedented access to the proceedings through our Fumo liveblog, video coverage and audio clips.

You can't get that kind of 360-degree view from any other news source in the region.

In today's economic climate, we all have to stick with what we do best. In our case, that's delivering comprehensive, uncompromising coverage of the news that hits close to home. Our journalists know what matters to your community because it's their community, too. They're driven by what compels you to pick up our paper every day: the need to understand this region and its people.

Much the same can be said of the homegrown group of investors who returned this paper to local control 21/2 years ago, proudly making it the largest locally owned paper in America.

We're your neighbors.

We grew up in towns like Upper Darby, Elkins Park, Springfield, Flourtown and Deptford Township.

We went to school here.

We care deeply about Philadelphia, its suburbs and South Jersey.

We're not trying to create the next multinational media behemoth. We're rebuilding the kind of world-class hometown papers that used to define cities like Philadelphia.

That takes time, and it takes investment - in people, such as our Pulitzer Prize-winning Inquirer editor, Bill Marimow; in new technology and design, such as what you're seeing on Philly.com; and in old-fashioned, high-quality journalism, such as the stories you read every day in The Inquirer and Daily News.

Big challenges lie ahead, and a slowing economy makes it undeniably tougher. But The Inquirer has been around for 180 years, and we're committed to making certain it's around for 180 years more.

So, the next time I see you at a game, at Mass, or at a concert, please keep telling me what we're doing well - and what we can do better. And please remember the critical role these newspapers play in our community.

At 51, I've been in other businesses that were just as tough as this one. But none of them seemed quite as important. And that's why I'm proud of this great, historic endeavor. Our local owners know it's more than a business; it's a public trust.