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Media Clippings: 'A Class Act'

August 11, 2005 By:
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It’s quite unusual to come across a tribute to a first-rate Philadelphia journalist in a national magazine. Philly is not necessarily known for producing stellar reporters; editors, perhaps, but not daily journalists.

But just such a tribute appeared in the June/July issue of the American Journalism Review. Rem Rieder, the magazine’s editor and senior vice president, who is also both Jewish and a born-and-bred Philadelphian, wrote about Peter Binzen, a longtime business writer at The Philadelphia Inquirer, in an article titled “A Class Act.” Until recently, when the Inquirer decided to drop certain columns, Binzen had been writing on a contract basis for the paper since his retirement 18 years ago.

As Rieder told the story, he and Binzen got to know one another in the 1970s, when Binzen was the metro editor of the late, lamented Evening Bulletin, and Rieder was his deputy.

“There were many things about Peter that impressed me,” wrote Rieder, “his intellect, his talent, his rigorous ethical standards. But what really stood out was his grace under pressure, his absolute decency. In a very tough situation, Peter almost never lost his cool. He is one of the most relentlessly upbeat people I’ve ever met.”

Binzen sounds like a chipper young thing, but Rieder disclosed that he’s now 82. Still, his step hasn’t slowed, according to his pal. But Rieder had to ask the inevitable question: Why then did the Inquirer give his column the ax?

Rieder was clearly puzzled by the development. He noted that newspapers are losing readers, and that one way they’re trying to boost circulation is by becoming more connected to the community.

Yet he wrote that no one was more connected to the community than Binzen. “His columns, which put a human face on business in Philadelphia, elicited a great deal of reader response. Few people know more about Philadelphia or understood it better than Peter, which is remarkable given that he’s not a native.

“Philly is a very tribal place, one that can be difficult for outsiders to penetrate. Yet Peter penetrated it so well that at one point a Binzen lecture on the city and its mores was part of the training for new Inky recruits.”

Rieder then went to the source: Amanda Bennett, editor of the Inquirer, and asked point blank why she “pulled the plug” on Binzen. Her answer: “Peter had a wonderful, long and energetic career. But we’re moving in a different direction in the way we cover entrepreneurism. … I’m sorry to see him go, but we have changing priorities.”

None of Binzen’s fans was happy with the decision, so they threw him a party.

It was a moving tribute, said Rieder, to a committed journalist at a time when the field has been taking hit after hit. According to the writer, even a brief retrospective of Binzen’s career provided a wonderful opportunity to celebrate the correct way to practice journalism. Following Binzen’s example, he said, would bring the seemingly “endless epidemic” of media malfeasance to a dead halt.

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