Can Lundy Pull Off ‘Inky’s New Suburban Strategy?

By: Wayne Robins

Walker Lundy was used to the cold after nearly a dozen years in Minnesota. But it would have been no surprise if, on his first visit to Philadelphia in November, he felt a chill so deep that he’d rather be ice fishing. Lundy had just been named executive editor of The Philadelphia Inquirer after the stunning resignation of Robert Rosenthal rocked that newsroom like an earthquake with its epicenter right on North Broad Street.

Lundy was plucked from a secure situation at the Saint Paul Pioneer Press to lead an insecure news staff at the Inquirer by the management of Knight Ridder, which owns both newspapers. “It happened so quickly — eight days from the time I got the first phone call to when I entered a room downstairs with 500 people wanting to know who the hell I was,” Lundy says in a recent interview in his glass-walled office, near the entrance to the huge, loftlike, second-floor newsroom.

That the Inky staff was skeptical is an understatement. Lundy had led the St. Paul paper to a Pulitzer Prize in 2000 and made it an aggressive, respected rival to the Minneapolis Star Tribune, the large McClatchy Co. paper across the Mississippi River.

But he wasn’t “Rosey” Rosenthal, who came up through the newsroom ranks to become editor in 1998. Nor was he Maxwell King (1990-1998). And he certainly wasn’t Eugene Roberts, who was editor of the Inquirer from 1972 to 1990 and personified its culture: seemingly unlimited time and resources for investigative and explanatory stories of length that would win the paper a mantleful of Pulitzers.

Lundy knew he was a stranger. “The first outside editor in 29 years,” he says, meaning the first not descended directly from Roberts. “I’ve never been in a newsroom that had pictures of their former editors on the wall.”

Though Lundy made his mark as an editor in the endless winter of the Twin Cities, he is a native of Florida and speaks in the considered drawl of the well-educated of the Deep South: He pronounces the name of his new paper the IN-quirer. (Asked if he actually indulged in the North Country sport of ice fishing, Lundy replied, “Are you nuts?”)

Another aspect of his Southern roots is his office filled with intriguing Elvis Presley memorabilia. Most striking is a red guitar on the wall directly behind his desk: It’s a clock with Elvis as its face. There’s also a purple cut-out of Elvis on another wall, the hips swiveling in perpetual motion. And on the table in the corner of his office where the interview takes place is the ultimate in Elvis kitsch: a wood-framed velvet Elvis painting — “you can only buy these out of car trunks in the South,” he says with pride. There appears to be a droplet of water trickling down The King’s face. “It could be an imperfection,” Lundy says, “but I prefer to think of it as a tear.” A weeping velvet Elvis!

The tall, bespectacled Lundy is blessed with a wry wit and the ability to say what he means and mean what he says. Those skills helped disarm the leery Philadelphians.

“He has a good sense of humor and is very straightforward,” says Tom Ferrick Jr., an Inquirer metro columnist and a former Newspaper Guild officer who has been at the paper since 1976. “He made a commitment to talk to everyone in the staff. He’s making a real effort to learn about the staff, and the area, and those are all positive things.”

Former rivals hold Lundy in high regard. “Walker is a damn good newspaperman, and I’ve always found him to be a delightful guy,” says Tim McGuire, editor of the Star Tribune, with whom Lundy crossed swords over the years.

South/Philly

Lundy may not yet be beloved, but he appears to be both accepted and respected by a newsroom that had sometimes been nearly paralyzed by what one longtime editor there described as a “neurotic nostalgia” for the Roberts era.

Now, of course, comes the difficult part: building circulation and profit margins in a dire economy in a city that has steadily lost population over the last few decades.

To read the complete profile of Lundy, please click here.

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