Set the mast, raise the rigging! Pull anchor and hoist the mainsail: The ship is leaving harbor!
Yes, dear readers, your own Man Overboard! sets sail: This reporter is, with a heavy heart, leaving Philadelphia City Paper to navigate to new journalistic horizons. You’ll be able to find me (though not by the moniker Man Overboard!) at the Philadelphia Public Interest Information Network — soon, I am promised, to be renamed.
It’s been an exciting, rewarding four-and-a-half years as a reporter for City Paper, with about three of those years (can it be?) as author of this column.
The topics I’ve addressed in between gratuitous nautical references — casinos, local politics, fracking, bicycles — changed like the tides, but the subject matter was, generally, the same: hypocrisy. There were the goodies embedded in a casino table-games law that let casinos lend credit and that tilted the odds of winning a new license to a project supported by one powerful lobbyist with a knack for not returning my calls (Mr. Stephen Wojdak, we will meet again). There were the early machinations of the state legislature to block a tax on Marcellus Shale drilling while plundering (for the first time ever) a fund meant to preserve state forests. Following an investigation into fatal shootings of mentally ill individuals by police, there were a few weeks of hearty despair over District Attorney Seth Williams’ declining, after much talk of a new era of transparency, to substantially improve the process by which these shootings are investigated and announced in a timely way. More recently, Man O! found much kindling for the ol’ reportorial fire in a series of baffling statements by the mayor and his administration explaining (and then defending in federal court) the mayor’s attempt to ban the feeding of hungry and homeless people on the Benjamin Franklin Parkway.
It was less often, and with more unease, that I occasionally turned my spyglass back toward the very cove that’s harbored my own career: the Philadelphia news media. But I’ll risk the glance now.
That Philadelphia City Paper, with a news team of three, has been and remains not just an upstanding arts and entertainment weekly magazine, but a news organization capable of breaking important stories tells me that the kind of news said to be endangered — investigative, in-depth, challenging reporting — doesn’t have to be lost just because of smaller staffs and shrinking budgets. Investigative reporting is a matter of approach, not just resources.
And when it comes to approach, I say the less polite, the better, especially when it comes to the thankless task CP has taken up from time to time of critiquing — and criticizing and praising and tearing apart — the larger news organizations that bear the mantle of being papers of record. Every now and then, CP sees the news as the news: Ergo, it was sometimes our job, as we saw it, to go after a story or a narrative that didn’t seem to sit right.
Many a time, the (rather small) CP flung itself into the ring with a story that threatened to trounce another piece in the public square — only to be met with a pouting giant of an opponent, unwilling to fight or concede. To put it bluntly: CP stories that contradicted, challenged or eclipsed reporting by the big guys have often been brushed off or ignored altogether, and I think those times represent missed opportunities for all of us.
Bruised egos (of either party) aside, the problem is that while competition, debate and even roughhousing make for good news; disengagement doesn’t. We should worry less about who’s playing nice than about who’s right.
Such talk seems to be falling out of favor as shrinking news organizations, here and elsewhere, have begun to emphasize collaboration. Overall, I think collaboration is a good thing: The right and honorable people of Philadelphia deserve the best reporting they can get, and if collaborations make that happen, so much the better. But the emerging possibilities for collaborating on stories that kick proverbial butt shouldn’t let us off the hook from kicking each others’ in the meantime.
So to the Good Ship City Paper, I say, keep firing those cannons — even if they’re aimed at me now — and I bid you a throaty “Ahoy!” and a heartfelt thanks.
Man Overboard! may have sailed off into the sunset, but Isaiah Thompson is still on Twitter at