OLD Media Moves

Veteran Inquirer reporter and editor Bill Marimow set to leave

October 29, 2019

Posted by Mariam Ahmed

Bill Marimow

Bill Marimow, vice president of strategic development at Philadelphia Inquirer began his career at the Inky in 1972 covering labor. Later on, he won the Pulitzer Prize in 1978 and 1985 for his work uncovering police brutality. Eventually, he ascended to the position of top editor.

Last Friday, the Inky caught up with him for an exclusive exit interview.

You’ve worked at the Inquirer as a writer and editor, and then for the past couple of years on the business side. Which role suits you most?
If I think of myself and what I do best it’s reporting, writing.

Some writers don’t ever want to touch the other side. What made you get into editing?
There are always watersheds in people’s careers. I was a reporter and writer from 1969 to about 1986. What happened in 1985 was the Inquirer went on strike for 45 days. It gave me time to reflect, gave me time to understand where I was in the constellation of reporters and writers. And I realized that many people on the staff were coming to me for advice on how to report a story, write a story, and organize a story.

You won your two Pulitzer Prizes in the ’70s and ’80s for investigative reporting. Did investigative stories, when they landed after months and months of work, have more impact then by virtue of the slower news cycle?
My belief is that it’s not the speed at which we do the work, it’s the depth, breadth and quality of the work. So for instance, this year, the Inquirer’s had some stories which have landed with a huge impact. An excellent example was Lisa Gartner’s stories about the beatings of young men at Glen Mills. The story broke, and within a few weeks Glen Mills had been closed down, people were being taken out of the school.

You’ve covered the news in Philadelphia in five different decades. Have the issues of the day changed between now and then?
I think, to a certain extent, white-collar corruption is not as blatant. … But some of the issues, like police violence, civil rights cases, they continue to be issues that require action by public officials.

Is there a story you wish you had gotten the chance to write but never did?
I would love to have known precisely what happened in the back alley of the MOVE house on May 13th and May 14th in 1985. Based on my reporting, it’s clear that when the fire was put out, many of the MOVE members were dead in the house, burned to death or shot to death. I interviewed many firefighters who were not in the shootout but were in homes looking out at the back alley of the MOVE house, and they talked about people leaving the house. It never made sense to me that people would leave a burning house and then go back in to die. So what happened out there? I don’t know the answer.

You’ve been fired by management multiple times. Some people might turn their back on the institution eventually. Why keep coming back?
Well, first of all, make sure you use the word “fired.” Not “let go.” When I was fired the first time, it was a result of the hedge funds taking over after Brian Tierney’s group went bankrupt. When I returned in the spring of 2012, the people who purchased the company were Gerry Lenfest, whom I admired, Lewis Katz, whom I admired, and George Norcross, whom I didn’t know. Given the ownership, I felt very confident that I’d be returning to an Inquirer that was more akin to the Inquirer I liked and respected. When I was fired in October 2013, the person who fired me was Bob Hall, the publisher. I believe, but I can’t prove, that he did it at the behest of Mr. Norcross.

Almost instantaneously, Lewis Katz and Gerry Lenfest filed a lawsuit to get me reinstated. So I came back, with the belief and hope that when all was said and done, Lewis Katz and Gerry Lenfest would be the owners. I believe their commitment to good journalism was comparable to the best publishers in America.

What made you step aside this time?
Two factors. Number one, I’m 72 years old. I’ve been doing orientation for every new employee — business side and journalism side — and almost everyone is young enough to be my child, and in a few cases, young enough to be my grandchild. I’ve got six grandchildren, three in Wellesley, Massachusetts, and three in Washington, D.C. They’re ages two to 12. I’d like to get to know them, and I’d like them to get to know me.

I hear you may still be making appearances from time to time in the paper as an op-ed writer. Do you have any ideas that you’re kicking around?
The subjects I would like to write about include the First Amendment, investigative reporting, education. And then I’ve written a few personal essays in the last year. One topic I’ve been thinking about is how I transformed into a subway denizen. I was a major subway and trolley rider for years from West Philly, but more recently I’ve been a walker and a driver. But lately, the driving is so frustrating that I’ve reverted to SEPTA. I’m actually enjoying it.



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