For Inquirer exiles, all roads lead to WHYY.
â€śI’m vividly aware of that impression being formed,â€ť says Chris Satullo, vice president of news and civic dialogue at the public station and a fellow refugee. â€śI know the folks weâ€™re working with are really good. They have a lot of game left.â€ť
Longtime theater critic Howard Shapiro last week became the latest passenger in Satulloâ€™s lifeboat, joining science ace Faye Flam, political commentator Dick Polman and cartoonist Tony Auth. Together, with Satullo, they represent 140 yearsâ€™ experience at the former Tower of Truth.
Thereâ€™s plenty more where they came from. A week doesnâ€™t go by that Satullo doesnâ€™t get pitched by a current or former Inky staffer, he says, and heâ€™s talking to â€śseveralâ€ť now. No names, but my moneyâ€™s on Tom Ferrick, whose promising “Metropolis” blog just went under.
Inky alums donâ€™t get preference, Satullo insists. Every applicant is considered individually, based on such factors as skill set; “brand” recognitionâ€”for the daily blog, Newsworks, as well as for WHYY-FM (90.9)â€”and fund-raising potential of the individualâ€™s work.
Speaking of funds, public broadcasting, like Blanche Dubois, depends on the kindness of strangers. â€śI donâ€™t have a pot of money waiting to hire folks who leave the building on Market Street,â€ť Satullo, 59, says. â€śI spend the better part of my day fund-raising, so we can be a better home to journalists.â€ť
His former colleagues are treated as independent contractors, paid mostly by the piece, according to Satullo. â€śTheyâ€™re pursuing portfolio careers. Weâ€™re part of the mix of things they do. This is the new deal. Everybodyâ€™s an entrepreneur, cobbling together various gigs. Weâ€™re happy to work with them.â€ť
Auth, WHYYâ€™s first digital artist in residence, is a special case, with a one-year “residency” funded by grants. It ends in April, but Satullo is confident heâ€™ll find â€śsome angel donorsâ€ť to renew it.
Satullo could have used an angel when he was at the Inky. In December ’07, then-owner Brian Tierney tried to fire him, Satullo says, â€śbecause he said I cost too much.â€ť A Guild member at the time, Satullo was protected. He hung in for another year before landing at WHYY in January 2009.
Despite the unhappy ending to his almost two-decade tenure, Satullo takes no pleasure in the Inkyâ€™s struggles. He holds hope that things will settle down enough for the staff to focus on journalism instead of â€śnear-death experiences every week.â€ť
Unlike the Inkyâ€™s ancient mariners, most of Satulloâ€™s staff is under 35. â€śThey enjoy working with the older hands,â€ť he says. The youngsters teach the elders about technology, the elders teach the youngsters about in-depth journalism, and nobody makes big money. Itâ€™s a win-win-win.
At some point, however, wonâ€™t Satullo max out on the Inky pedigree?
â€śIn theory, there has to be a limit,â€ť he says. â€śI donâ€™t have a number in mind, nor has one been ordained for me. I try to look at it as a whole. Does it all collectively make sense? Are we serving the audience weâ€™re trying to serve?
â€śI worked for a long time at a great newspaper, and it felt like we were fighting a defensive war. This feels better than that.â€ť