A new year always offers us the chance for new beginnings and new directions.
So, to start 2009, I'm offering a commitment to our readers, some advice for our beleaguered mayor, and my perspective on our industry.
First, at The Philadelphia Inquirer my colleagues and our local ownership group are excited about a series of new initiatives, both print and online, which we'll be rolling out in 2009 after months of preparation. More to come.
But the one I want to announce now is inspired by the success of our efforts to help save the day for the Toys for Tots campaign. We will commence another regionwide initiative to run throughout the year with the goal of raising at least an additional 180,000 pounds of food for area food banks. (That's 1,000 pounds for each of the 180 years we've been publishing The Inquirer.)
You've read in The Inquirer, the Daily News, and on philly.com our stories of family nutrition needs that aren't being met, and we hope to rally our readers to fill that gap.
As for advice, here's one genteel but heartfelt thought for Mayor Nutter.
I don't think a mayor has gone into office at a more challenging time than right now. The economy is in the tank, tax and fee revenues are in the same condition, and the needs for services have never been greater. The mayor is a bright and deeply committed public official motivated by all the right impulses. He has assembled an overall strong team.
Yet, something doesn't seem to be working. The team seems to lack focus; it is difficult for us to understand its priorities; decisions take too long.
While it is not clear why this is happening, it is clear that there is still time to fix things - and we all need this mayor to be successful.
Case in point: the libraries. It seems the mayor is burning a lot of gas on something that in the end saves $8 million a year in a budget shortfall projected to total more than $1 billion over five years. After this savings, there's still more than $950 million left to find. Hmmm.
My suggestion is well-known to every business owner, from the largest corporation to the neighborhood merchant: When you don't have the revenue, you have to cut the staff. And yet the city, with more than 23,000 employees, has said it plans to lay off only 141.
We have fewer people living in the city and more people working for it than in the past. Doesn't make sense. I know it's hard, but life is difficult.
A suggestion? Start with a 5 percent reduction in city payroll - rethink what is being done and what can be eliminated. Avoid cuts to police, fire and DHS - but go after benefits, too. Mayor, you have a historic window right now - everyone understands the financial situation is grim. The time is right. And, if not now, when?
Another hope for a new beginning.
The Daily News' Stephanie Farr covered an alleged human-trafficking ring in Delaware County last month. Young females from Africa, some reportedly as young as 13, were kept as slaves and forced into prostitution. Sadly, nothing new - we have grimly chronicled similar tales of females from Asia and Eastern Europe over the years.
Mostly they come to America illegally, told they will perhaps work in a factory or as a domestic worker, but when they get here they are forced into sexual slavery.
After the story ran, someone brought to my attention what appear to be advertisements for prostitution services running in otherwise respectable publications like Philadelphia Magazine and alternative weekly newspapers such as Philadelphia Weekly all the time.
So I dug out a Philadelphia Magazine, and yes, there it was. I'm not talking about personal ads; I'm talking about explicit advertisements under personal services. When you see ads offering "intimate appointments" or "my home/your hotel," it's not hard to guess what's going on. It's like blatantly running ads for flat-screen TVs that "fell off a truck/super bargains."
I know the market for advertising is soft for TV, radio stations, magazines and newspapers. (Although I'm told Philadelphia Magazine has been running ads like this for some time.)
But behind these ads you'll find some parent's little boy or girl and a probable story of addiction, abuse and heartbreaking sadness.
To profit from it seems unconscionable.
I know the owners of these publications, and I hope they stop taking this money and maybe donate what they've made to nonprofits helping women and children in need.
Obviously, we don't take those ads. And in fact, when I found out a few months ago we were unknowingly taking ads for what it turned out might be puppy mills, we promptly refused them. Shortly afterward I got a wonderful call from the legendary Bill Smith of Main Line Animal Rescue, thanking us for doing this.
Last but not least, we'll be celebrating a birthday this year - our 180th, to be exact - and we'll mark the occasion by connecting you to our region's rich history and bright prospects for the future.
The kickoff event is a collaborative photographic retrospective with Moore College of Art and Design titled Women Through the Lens of Time, which opens Jan. 23 at Moore and features photos from our vast archives.
So here's to new beginnings, decisive action, and a commitment to help those in need.