"Verve and Attitude"  | American Journalism Review
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From AJR,   March & april 2011

"Verve and Attitude"   

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The new editor of the Philadelphia Daily News wants his reporters to write with a point of view. Posted: Wed, Feb. 9, 2011

By Greg Masters
Greg Masters (gmasters@ajr.umd.edu) is an AJR editorial assistant.     


"I hereby free you from the tyranny of the Inverted Pyramid," the list rousingly begins.

Larry Platt, the new editor of the Philadelphia Daily News, goes on to encourage his reporters "to write with wit and verve and attitude" and to "not be afraid to have a point of view about what you report," among other changes announced in a memo to his staff on January 31, his first day on the job.

As the former editor of Philadelphia magazine, Platt is used to opinionated writing. But is that the right approach for the Daily News, which has won the Pulitzer Prize three times, most recently in 2010 for investigative reporting?

"I don't think it signals a shift in news values. I think it signals a shift in the voice that delivers those news values," Platt said in an interview. Readers throughout America, he says, want journalists "to do their reporting fairly and accurately, but also not to pretend that they don't have a point of view about what they're reporting."

The changes are part of a repackaging of the 82,580-circulation Daily News, never exactly what you would call stiff and stuffy, "to become a loud, irreverent and fun tabloid," in the words of CEO and Publisher Greg Osberg, a former Newsweek publisher.

Osberg points to trends in today's news environment. "You're certainly seeing more opinion coming out in a lot of journalistic outlets," he says. But, he adds, "at the end of the piece you can't compromise on the accuracy of the facts."

Platt, 47, grew up reading the Daily News in the Philadelphia suburb of Lower Merion. An avid sports fan, he nursed dreams of becoming the next Julius Erving that is, until Daily News sports columnist Stan Hochman visited his high school English class, when Platt realized, "Oh, I could actually write about people who were much more coordinated than I am."

Platt profiled sports figures as a freelance writer and wrote several books, including a biography of mercurial former Philadelphia 76er star Allen Iverson that was published in 2003. In 2002 Platt became editor of Philadelphia magazine, where he remained until June 2010.

He says being the editor of the Daily News is a daunting task, but one he relishes. For years, he says, he has exchanged ideas with friends on how newspapers can innovate. "My ideas about the future direction [of the Daily News] have long been germinating," he says.

Not all of the changes are groundbreaking at the tabloid Daily News, whose slogan changed recently from "The People Paper" to "The People's Paper." It has long been known for its irreverent, freewheeling approach and take-no-prisoners cover headlines. Columnist Stu Bykofsky, who has been at the Daily News since 1972, says the paper has not used the inverted pyramid for decades. But as for Platt's invitation to "be explicit adjudicators of factual disputes" and "draw conclusions from your reporting," Bykofsky says reaction at the paper has been quizzical.

"I think it's going to be very challenging to allow a reporter to inject his or her opinion or reach conclusions," Bykofsky says. "Fair to me means letting both sides have their say..letting the reader decide. I just think it's dangerous territory."

Bykofsky stresses that it's unclear exactly what Platt's openness to opinion means in real terms. "The first time a political reporter wants to call the mayor an MFer in print, we'll see what happens," he says, laughing.

Platt also is adding two loud and opinionated personalities to the Daily News lineup: former Pennsylvania Gov. Ed Rendell (to serve as a sports columnist) and Buzz Bissinger (who will be an editorial adviser and occasional columnist). It was Rendell--a hard-core Philadelphia Eagles fan and that rare out-of-towner who has become a true Philadelphian--who in December attracted national attention when he declared that the United States had become "a nation of wusses" after an Eagles game was postponed due to bad weather. And Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist and "Friday Night Lights" author Bissinger is, in Platt's words, "passionate and inspiring and often outraged," as a glance at his over-the-top tweets will confirm.

Like those men, Platt is not shy about expressing his opinions, but he qualifies the word "loud."

"Yes, I am opinionated," Platt said. " 'Loud' is maybe a little bit of a misnomer, because I also consider myself, and want the paper to be, thoughtful."

He sees aspects of himself in the paper he now leads. "I think my personality is very similar to the Daily News'," he says. "I take issues facing Philadelphia really seriously, but I don't take myself too seriously."

Osberg agrees: "I think he exhibits the personality of the brand." Platt's is a colorful personality, to be sure.

The Daily News reported last summer that the editor, then at Philadelphia magazine, gave a framed photograph of a cyst that had been removed from his testicle to a female staffer--an action believed to have contributed to Platt's departure. He also was reported to have tackled co-workers in the magazine's hallways; he responded with a tongue-in-cheek letter to the Daily News, saying "I rescinded my Mandatory Coed Tackling Policy" in 2003.

In 2007, he considered a run for Congress in Pennsylvania's 6th district, even going so far as to meet with Democratic Party officials, ask friends for donations and come clean on some skeletons in his closet--such as smoking pot--before changing his mind.

Now at the Daily News, Platt says he intends to make the paper noticed--partly by putting out different content than its big brother, the Philadelphia Inquirer. The papers are both owned by Philadelphia Media Network Inc., a consortium of financial institutions that acquired the dailies last year. "In this media universe, the worst thing is to be ignored," he says.

But he says being loud does not preclude being "smart and thoughtful." "I don't want people to think we're just going to be spouting off," he says. "We're going to be reporting the heck out of this city and drawing conclusions from that reporting--some of which may be loud, in the packaging of it especially."

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