W I L L I A M. K. M A R I M O W '69



The following feature article appeared in the campus publication Mosaic in December, 1998.

GETTING IT RIGHT IN JOURNALISM

succeeding.gif (90874 bytes) In 1977, when William K. Marimow ’69 was a City Hall reporter for The Philadelphia Inquirer investigating allegations of physical abuse and intimidation by Philadelphia police officers in the interrogation of homicide suspects and witnesses, winning a Pulitzer Prize wasn’t foremost in his mind; being accurate was.

"[When you’re] accusing the police of committing crimes and you’re a 29-year-old kid in a city where the mayor was the police commissioner and had been a cop on the beat and had risen through the ranks for 28 years -- almost longer than you’ve been alive -- you worry about getting it right," Marimow asserts.

To get it right, Marimow and fellow Inquirer reporter Jonathan Neumann pored over files and records covering four years of challenged homicide interrogations, studying trial transcripts, judges’ rulings, medical records, photographs and documents. In parallel, they managed to pursuade several detectives to talk about the cases in question. As a result of their investigation, Marimow and Neumann published a series of stories describing a police interrogation system in which suspects were handcuffed to metal chairs and beaten with lead pipes, blackjacks, brass knuckles and chair and table legs -- practices that one former detective himself called "a return to the Middle Ages." The duo’s work triggered a civil rights investigation which led to the indictment and conviction of six homicide detectives for conspiring to violate the civil rights of a suspect and witnesses in a fatal firebombing. And their investigative reporting earned the newspaper a Pulitzer Prize for public service in 1978.

Skillful probing, thoroughness, and accuracy have been the hallmarks of Marimow’s 29-year career in journalism. He readily acknowledges that a career in journalism can "really make a difference in people’s lives." Marimow’s own ability to make such a difference was recognized again in 1985, when his reporting for an exposť that revealed Philadelphia police dogs had attacked more than 350 people earned him a second Pulitzer Prize.

Marimow spent 21 years at The Philadelphia Inquirer, working as a reporter covering labor, city government, the courts, and economics, before becoming an editor, city editor, and then assistant to the publisher. He left Philadelphia in 1993 to become metro editor at The Baltimore Sun, a Times-Mirror newspaper he described as a "sleeping giant of a newspaper that needed to be woken up." He served as associate managing editor of the newspaper from the fall of 1993 to 1995, when he was named the managing editor responsible for overseeing the work of 400 employees.

Dissecting, debating, and discussing literature

Marimow, who admits to being "determined and tenacious," describes these as highly desirable journalistic traits and in himself traces them back to the analytical and writing skills he developed as an English major at Trinity. "The English courses we took emphasized analysis," Marimow recalls. "The professors really urged us to dissect and debate and discuss literature." Especially memorable was Professor of English Hugh Ogden, who had just joined Trinity’s faculty and with whom Marimow took a course in American literature. "I can remember reading and discussing Sister Carrie and A Farewell to Arms. He was a very inspiring, invigorating professor who had a real feel for the kids. In his comments on papers, he didn’t write just ‘B+, good work.’ His was an expansive commentary on the writing, the thinking, the analysis."

Marimow, it seems, also left a lasting and positive impression on Ogden. "Bill had an incredibly rich response to literature," recalls his former professor. "Because of his sympathetic nature Bill was able to empathize with the situations in novels that characters were going through. He was gifted verbally and wrote beautiful papers."

Marimow’s achievement in English and his other classes earned him a place on the dean’s list five out of eight semesters. When he graduated, he headed back home to Pennsylvania and worked briefly in Bala Cynwyd, PA for a trade magazine, Commercial Car Journal, published by Chilton Co., before being hired by the now-defunct Philadelphia Bulletin in 1970 as the assistant to its economics columnist. He joined the Inquirer as a reporter in 1972.

Marimow’s reportorial excellence has earned him, among other accolades, two Silver Gavel Awards from the American Bar Association, a Robert F. Kennedy Journalism award, and awards from journalism’s honorary society, Sigma Delta Chi. In 1982, he was named a Nieman Fellow at Harvard University, a highly prestigious and coveted honor awarded annually to only 12 U.S. journalists for a year of independent study. In 1984, Trinity College recognized his achievements by naming him the recipient of an Alumni Achievement Award.

For anyone who is interested in people and likes writing, journalism is a good career path to follow, Marimow says. His daughter, Ann, 23, has followed in her father’s footsteps and is a reporter at the Concord Monitor in New Hampshire. His son, Scott, 19, is a first-year student at Pennsylvania State University, and his wife, Diane, is an artist and art teacher.

What are Marimow’s future goals? He says he has several: To make The Sun a newspaper that "really illuminates the city, state, nation and world for our readers," to teach English or journalism someday, and to write a book. "I’ve always tried to concentrate on what I’m doing," he notes. "It’s my belief that if you can do what you do excellently, you’ll be able to do what you want to do."

-Suzanne Zack


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