‘A Spectacular Sight from Above’: Students Tour Inquirer Building with Atkins

By Purnell T. Cropper | April 18, 2012

By Michael Schwartz ’14

As Philadelphia Inquirer staff writer Sally Downey described the newspaper’s history and daily operations, Larry Atkins’ awestruck students took in the massive press room—the chaos of papers strewn across desks and the rigid geometry of all the cubicles creating a dizzying picture. The odd journalist worked a source on the phone, but for the most part the place was empty. As Downey explained, most reporters were out in the field gathering news. By 4 o’clock, however, the space would be full of commotion—the rush to file stories for the next day’s edition.

“The newsroom is a spectacular sight from above,” said Atkins, who teaches journalism at Arcadia. For years he has organized excursions to the Elverson Building on Broad Street, home of the Inquirer since 1925, allowing students a behind-the-scenes look into the world of print. This trip was particularly special, though. It marked the last time Atkins would bring students to visit the country’s third oldest daily newspaper before its moves to a new headquarters, the Strawbridge’s building at Eighth and Market streets.

“I’m very disappointed that this will be the last time that my students will be able to see this great newsroom because of the Inquirer’s upcoming move to Eighth and Market streets,” he said. “It’s a necessary move due to the paper’s downsizing, but it’s still a shame. I’ll still take my classes to the new building and will continue to sit in on the editors’ meetings, but I can’t imagine that the atmosphere will be the same.”

Downey, who has shared the newspaper’s inner workings with countless high school and college groups, will be sorry to leave the Elverson Building but is prepared for the transition, noting that the Strawbridge & Clothier building has plenty of history of its own. And she remains upbeat about the future of print journalism and the Inquirer.

“It’s really hard to say, but I think you can’t get away from the fact that at least in Pennsylvania we have an aging population and people still want to read the newspaper as opposed to reading it online or just blogging. They want to sit down with their cup of coffee and read a whole article, and our advertisers want to advertise in a newspaper, so we have to make our rates agreeable for them. I think we can’t lose sight with the new technology of our core readers.”

In one of the more remarkable aspects of the tour, students sat in an editors’ meeting. Witnessing the Inquirer staff work through editorial and design decisions for upcoming issues was fascinating and revealing.

Brian Schneider ’14 appreciated the building, but he came away from the editors’ meeting even more impressed by the people who work at the newspaper, marveling at the amount of coordinated energy necessary to produce each issue. “People may overlook how much work and effort people put into an upcoming paper, and getting to sit in on an editors’ meeting was a great opportunity to see that effort. Today was the great opportunity to see what makes the Inquirer one of the top newspapers in the country.”

Atkins, a frequent contributor to the Inquirer, was glad to provide this up-close glimpse at the paper’s daily operations and another look at its landmark building. “The students were able to get insight on what’s involved in planning the stories that the paper will cover that day. I’ve seen Sally Downey give this tour many times, but I still learn something new with each visit,” he said.