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Perspectives: Long live InPittsburgh

Our weekly newspaper may be gone, but the message behind our work must continue to be heard

Wednesday, October 03, 2001

By Stephen H. Segal

It all happened so very, very fast. Thursday morning I sat down at my desk as usual and started proofreading a terrorism-related story that was set to run in the next issue of InPittsburgh. At 2 p.m. I was called with the rest of the newspaper's staff into a meeting, where a representative of our owner, Philadelphia-based Review Publishing, informed us that InPittsburgh's assets had just been sold to Steel City Media -- the owner of the Pittsburgh City Paper, WRRK-FM and WLTJ-FM -- and that we would cease publication immediately. Apparently, InPittsburgh hadn't turned out to be the revenue-producing operation Review thought it would be when the company purchased the paper four years ago.

 
  Stephen H. Segal joined InPittsburgh in 1998 and became editor September 2000. His e-mail address is stephen@earthlingcentral.com. 
 

By 5 p.m. I was attempting to do several things at once, none of which could wait: call our regular freelancers and break the bad news to them, peruse the written terms of my abrupt termination and field phone calls from reporters. Sometime around 10:30 p.m., I finally paused long enough to realize that the story I'd been editing that morning might never see the light of day in Pittsburgh.

Friday, I spent six hours cleaning out my office while talking quietly with the people I've spent the past several years working with, and that was that. The doors were locked, the locks were changed, the change was so overwhelming it would take a while to truly sink in: After more than 17 years, InPittsburgh no longer was.

Today would have marked Vol. 18, No. 9.

I grieve for the city, which has lost one of its most vital voices at a time when, as citizens, we're all more deeply aware than ever of just how important it is to be well informed. I grieve for my colleagues in every part of InPittsburgh's operation, who poured their hearts and souls into creating a unique, alternative media outlet that would make a difference in their community, and who were not given the opportunity to produce one final issue saying goodbye.

But I do not grieve for myself, because I still can't get over how lucky, how tremendously privileged I've been to be part of the team that's produced the journalism InPittsburgh has.

Charlie Deitch's investigation of the federal government's detainment of legal immigrants in small Pennsylvania jails helped win one such man his freedom. Sharmila Venkatasubban's profile of novelist Albert French illuminated one of Pittsburgh's most complicated cultural figures. Matt Stidle and Nikki Trader's essays in the wake of recent American high-school killings explained teen-agers' own perspectives on the horrifying violence.

Steve Volk was the first in town to look in depth at the mayoral candidacy of liberal Republican Jim Carmine, running against Tom Murphy on a platform of racial and economic justice. Marty Levine unearthed religious discrimination against a Butler County man forbidden by court order to expose his child to his Wiccan spiritual beliefs. Mike Shanley produced a diverse, energetic and informed look at Pittsburgh's adventurous music scene -- week after week. And critics like Dave Madden, Deborah McDonald, Dan Arp, Jenn Meccariello, Robert Isenberg and Harry Kloman consistently brought fresh, thoughtful coverage to our city's cultural world.

Then came Sept. 11. Still reeling from the terrorist attacks, the InPittsburgh staff decided we couldn't wait a whole week to respond with the sort of reporting, analysis and commentary our readers would be desperately seeking. We quickly began breaking daily coverage on our Web site and followed up in our Sept. 19 issue with more extensive reports from contributors like Michael Batz and Lisa Grzyboski, who were on the streets in New York City and Washington.

That InPittsburgh could do such work, for so long, and yet still be determined to be financially not viable -- that's a sad thing. It should remind us once again not to take our civic life for granted; community pillars like newspapers may seem like public services, but they're as vulnerable to the realities of capitalism as any other business. It should remind us that no newspaper can thrive unless all those with whom it has vital relationships -- not only its staff and its readers, but its owner and the local pool of potential advertisers as well -- share the fundamental, basic principle that the newspaper is an asset to the community whose continued existence isn't something to be taken lightly.

Though my employment officially ended on Friday, I consider this to be my final duty as editor of InPittsbugh: To our readers, to our staff, to all those who understood and appreciated and supported the role our newspaper played in this city, thank you -- and be aware that your job as concerned Pittsburghers is not over. There is now one fewer newspaper in town, and it is up to you to make sure that the remaining ones do their job to your satisfaction. The Post-Gazette, the Tribune-Review, the City Paper, the Courier -- read them. When they do good work, tell them so, and support them in any way possible. When they fail to do good work, tell them so, and explain in no uncertain terms what you expect from them.

Do not let one newspaper's loss stifle the important voices and perspectives InPittsburgh strove so hard to cultivate. The medium is gone, but if you insist loudly enough, the message need not be.



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