2009-06-04 / Features

Philadelphia Inquirer Celebrates 180 Years

By Bill Bergstrom ASSOCIATED PRESS WRITER

PHILADELPHIA (AP) - Amid hard times for the newspaper industry, The Philadelphia Inquirer celebrates its 180th anniversary with a special edition on Sunday and a reprint of its first-ever edition on Monday.

Despite struggles including the Chapter 11 bankruptcy reorganization of its parent company, Inquirer publisher Brian Tierney predicts more anniversaries to come.

"It's not the end of the world, it's just a period of time that we have to become more efficient,'' Tierney said in an interview with The Associated Press on Friday.

Survival depends on economic recovery and revived real estate and auto advertising, as well as reorganization of the company's debts in bankruptcy court, Tierney said.

With economic recovery, Tierney, a former advertising executive, predicted advertisers will prefer newspapers over television, radio or online advertising "to reach a really large and frankly affluent audience.''

He was skeptical that news via laptop or smart phone could ever replace newspapers.

"When people say 'I get my news online,' OK, let's do a little news IQ testing,'' Tierney said. "I worry that ... it's about one-quarter of an inch deep.''

Even in the current economy, he said operations of Philadelphia Newspapers, parent company of The Philadelphia Inquirer and Philadelphia Daily News, are profitable, weighed down only by large debt payments the company seeks to have eased in bankruptcy court. On $400 million in revenue in 2008, Tierney said, "We made $36 million (in profit), before debt service.''

Sunday's "180 Years'' insert describes the historical progression from shipping and Civil War news to baseball coverage and construction of Philadelphia's modern skyline.

Monday's paper will include a replica of The Pennsylvania Inquirer from June 1, 1829. The name changed to The Philadelphia Inquirer a few months later.

Prominent on Page 1 are steamboat departure times that were major news before cars, interstate highways or major railroads existed. An 11-hour trip to New York was $4.

Today, a trip from Philadelphia to New York costs as much as $64 for a one hour, 17 minute trip on Amtrak's high-speed train or as little as $20 for a two-hour trip on a New Century Travel bus.

Tierney pointed out frontpage ads for coal deliveries and cough drops that predated by nearly two centuries the Page 1 advertising recently re-adopted by papers including the Inquirer, The Wall Street Journal and The New York Times.

"In 180 years, we've been through Civil War, depressions, World Wars, booms and busts and we're still standing,'' Tierney said. "And I'm absolutely positive we'll be here 180 years from now, too.''

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