Regarding last week’s 40th anniversary issue:
As the editor of PW’s predecessor, the Welcomat, from 1981 to 1993, I read this issue with great interest. Let me make two small but important corrections:
Anthony Clifton said that in 1981 I became “the paper's first editor since its launch in 1971.” Actually, the Welcomat had at least 15 editors in the 10 years before I arrived. Some lasted only a few months, and none lasted more than two years.
Tim Whitaker, who became editor some two years after I left, described the Welcomat when he arrived as a paper that “had a small number of writers who were paid very little to express themselves about whatever they felt like ... $10, $20, maybe $40 for a story.” It’s true that no one ever wrote for the old Welcomat for the money, but we never paid less than $30 per article when I was there. And if Tolstoy had walked in with the manuscript for War and Peace, I'm sure we would have rustled up at least $75. As for the "small number of writers," the cover of our commemorative 1,000th issue in September 1990 listed the names of 85 noteworthy contributors, and that list was just the tip of the iceberg. One of those names, incidentally, was Tim Whitaker’s.
Editor, Broad Street Review
Congratulations to PW from someone who knew you when. I was the editor-in-chief of the Center City Welcomat from September 1975 until January 1976 when I moved on to work for a suburban daily. Yes, the Welcomat was completely different, but it had an honorable mission. We aimed to serve the residents of Center City. They didn’t expect a lot of essays from their newspaper, just an extensive calendar of events and the regular news. The community news format augmented with syndicated columns proved profitable for owner Leon Levin’s “flagship” South Philadelphia Review, so he let his daughters manage the same concept in Center City. If Mr. Levin’s daughters had any desire to make the Welcomat different, I never knew it. For me, the Welcomat was a great job right out of college and I’m still grateful for the opportunity. I honed my management skills by supervising one part-time reporter, a retired gentleman in his 80s who wrote up the calendar on a manual typewriter. The daughters were cordial and generally kept to themselves, although they did suggest that I wear makeup. How many other editors get that kind of guidance from their publishers? The Welcomat was the professional beginning of my dream career. These days, I am extremely thankful—and proud—to still be doing the work I love for a newspaper I love, the Philadelphia Inquirer.
JANE M. VON BERGEN
I was a part of the old and new Welcomat, both as a columnist, book reviewer and feature writer. Well before the name change, the Welcomat was also thoroughly ensconced in alternative weekly mode. In those days it was hard to get more alternative than editors Derek Davis, Jim Knipel and Suzanne Ross.
There was tension in the office when publisher Michael Cohen came on the scene. Cohen’s surgically abrasive manner hit like a spray of bullets from an AK 47. When William Warner, a smart but quietly introspective New York novelist was hired as the new editor, some wondered how he would blend with Cohen, who was more of stock broker type. Warner was a bit of a perfectionist and wasn’t above calling writers into his office for a “line by line” analysis of their work. Needless to say, there was no post hire honeymoon period between him and Cohen. At the time the word was that Cohen wanted to dictate content but Warner wasn’t having it. Cohen, not about to be upstaged, had Warner’s head before the New Yorker could even get his first edition out. The day that Warner was fired was the day that he had roller bladed to work. “I skated into work, and skated out 30 minutes later,” he told me by phone then.
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