Former Inquirer staffers, in light of the paper's 180th anniversary, reflect on their time at the paper and on legendary editor Gene Roberts.
Sergio R. Bustos
was a reporter
from 1987 to 1995
On a cool November night in 1993, I huddled inside a van in North Philadelphia with political reporter Vanessa Williams and a man worried about going to prison.
The man told us in Spanish that he had worked as a canvasser for Democratic state Senate candidate William Stinson. He told us he knew he had done something wrong, but wanted us to know he was just following orders. His marching orders were to illegally hand out and collect absentee ballots in Stinson's name during the waning days of the crucial Second Senate District election with Republican Bruce Marks. The winner's party would control the state legislature in Harrisburg.
The man had been told to tell every Latin voter that it's la nueva forma de votar - the new way to vote. The man had refused to detail the absentee-ballot scheme. But an hour into the conversation, we finally persuaded him to tell us about one targeted neighborhood - the 1800 block of Westmoreland Street. Minutes later, Vanessa and I were on the block knocking on doors and discovered 18 residents told of the new way to vote. All had been told they were eligible to vote absentee and were given a ballot with a box checked to mark they were voting the straight Democratic ticket.
When we returned to tell city editors Hank Klibanoff and Robert "Rosey" Rosenthal about the scheme, I still remember Hank saying, "We're going to knock on a lot more doors."
More than 30 reporters and photographers scoured the city's poorest neighborhoods, producing story after story about the fraudulent absentee votes. Months later, a federal judge removed Stinson from office, saying nearly 1,800 absentee ballots were fraudulent.
The stories were a testament to The Inquirer's dedication to getting the story. For me, it was an affirmation as to the power of journalism.
Arlene Notoro Morgan
was a reporter and editor
from 1969 to 2000
and is now associate dean
at the Columbia Graduate School of Journalism
I was one of the first women to work on the news side of the paper. I was hired in 1969 and I believe there were only nine or 10 female journalists in the entire place, most of them working in features or in the suburban zoned sections.
I was the first woman to work on the city desk as an editor, the first woman to work in the composing room with the all-male staff, the first woman to have a baby and return to work. That was in 1974, and the editor, Gene Roberts, asked me to take a job on the all-male news desk, which is tasked to make judgment calls on where stories and photos are placed in the paper. It was a great learning opportunity and the job also enabled me to work nights so I could be at home with my baby during the day.
When I joined the news desk, I started to have arguments with the national desk editors (again all male) because of their penchant for bathing beauty photos in the Briefs column. If there was a photo available of some celebrity in a bathing suit with her breasts hanging out, it was offered. So I took a stand: No more "ba-zoom" pictures.
The howling was fierce and, of course, the editor in charge of the column appealed to Roberts. And bless his heart, Roberts backed me up. It wasn't until some years later that I realized that getting rid of those photos was precisely why Roberts wanted me on the news desk. He knew that if a woman took charge, the days of girlie photos were over.
was a copy editor
from 1976 to 2005
The most spine-tingling moment that I witnessed in my four decades in the newspaper business happened in 2003 on the day that Rabbi Fred Neulander was sentenced to prison for hiring a hit man to murder his wife.
Late that afternoon, Nancy Phillips, the reporter to whom the hit man had confessed, and who had arranged for him to give himself up, walked into the newsroom. I was down at the far end of the room, working on the sports copy desk, so I didn't see who started it, but the entire room, several hundred people, gave her a standing ovation. It was quite something.
was a reporter
from 1981 to 2005
Whenever I talk to schoolchildren about what it's like to be a reporter, they invariably ask me who was the most famous person I ever interviewed. The question always trips me up because my most memorable stories at The Inquirer involved ordinary people. I often emerged from interviews feeling that the person I just talked to was one of the most fascinating people I ever met. Fame had nothing to do with it.
was a reporter and editor
from 1971 to 2005
In the 1970s, the Greyhound Bus Terminal was below street level of the office building on the northwest corner of 17th and Market Streets. My father worked in that building running a newsstand, selling newspapers, candy, cigarettes, and souvenirs to bus passengers and office workers. Everybody in the building knew my dad.
When I was a new reporter at The Inquirer, nothing pleased my father more than selling the paper and making sure everyone knew that his son's story was on Page 3.
Sometimes I'd stop in to see my dad before I went to work, and I'd see him buttonhole some poor guy in a jacket and tie who just wanted to buy a paper, but now had to listen to a story about Bennie Dubin's kid.
The first Inquirer Magazine story I wrote caused my father to draw a big sign and put it above the newspaper display: Read My Son's Story.
I cringed. Thirty years later, I smile.
was an assistant managing editor from 1974 to 1996
Before coming to The Inquirer to run the photo and art departments, I told Gene Roberts my revolutionary idea of how a big-city photo operation should be run - essentially, control of assigning, photo editing, cropping and sizing, and sitting at the makeup desk where the paper was put together every night. Gene mulled it over and finally agreed to my "outrageous demands." I would be a senior editor, answering only to his managing editor or to Gene himself, and we'd get some hires.
From my first day, a photo person was in charge of all aspects of photography and art at The Inquirer. Within a week, The Inquirer looked better because photos had become more than just "illustrations." Feathers were ruffled. John Carroll, then city editor, would later tell me he'd "hated" me because he no longer controlled the photo staff - until he realized that his job had become easier and the paper looked better. Ron Patel, who was the czar of the Sunday paper, finally came around. Best of all, I got to hire promising young photographers, including a Pulitzer winner, John Filo. Two of our hires, Larry Price and Tom Gralish, won Pulitzers (Price for foreign, and Gralish for local photography) at The Inquirer. The photo department shared a third Pulitzer - the Public Service award - for Three Mile Island coverage.
The Inquirer thrived, and our photography philosophy - a photo person running the photo staff - became a model for other major newspapers.
John V.R. Bull
was assistant to the editor
from 1984 to 2000
There was a day many years ago when five editors were meeting with Gene Roberts, our editor, to decide what to do about some particular issue (I don't recall what it was).
After some discussion, the five of us were in agreement on what we should do.
"Well," said Roberts in his Southern drawl. "It's five to one. I win."
"Sounds good to me," one of us quipped as we left Roberts' office.
is editor of the Editorial Page
Slap me for the cliche, but I've been at The Inquirer for the best of times and the worst of times. And there was a 13-year gap when I wasn't here at all. I was around for the lavish Pulitzer Prize parties in 1985 and 1986; one on Boathouse Row and the other at the zoo. I thought it couldn't get any better than that. After watching the newsroom mobilize to cover the MOVE house bombing in 1985, I thought no better reporters and editors existed - anywhere.
Many on that Inquirer staff were still around when I returned to the paper in 1999, but the reality of newspaper economics meant I would not see a return to those days when no expense was spared to get a good story. In fact, eight years later, I was among the shell-shocked watching as 70 colleagues were laid off. The number of minority journalists let go was inordinately high. My best memories of The Inquirer may be yet to come. But it's hard to see that now.