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Leaving The Inquirer For Online Pastures: Our Interview With Tim Panaccio

Jan 17, 2008, 8:05 AM EDT

Early in this hockey season, I began to notice that Tim Panaccio wasn’t staffing his regular beat at the Inquirer. I thought maybe he was taking a season off to write a book, but soon after, I started seeing Panaccio-penned columns every day at the newly revamped web offering of Comcast SportsNet, CSNPhilly.com. When listening to him speak with WIP’s morning show last week, I learned that there was more to the story of his departure from the Inquirer, and I asked if he’d be interested in discussing leaving, starting his new venture, and the 2008-2009 Flyers with us. Always a straight shooter, Tim didn’t disappoint.

After so many years of covering the Flyers for
Philadelphia’s largest-circulation newspaper, why did you leave the
Inquirer during the off-season?

Jim Cohen took over the
Inky sports department in January. He is not a hockey guy. He moved me to
the Eagles beat on May 22. He said that hockey was "irrelevant" and the
Eagles far outweighed other beats. Cohen didn’t understand nor
appreciate that my "passion" was hockey and not the stinkin’ Eagles.
They ended up moving Ray Parrillo, another displaced hockey guy, back
onto the Eagles to back up Bob Brookover. On May 22, I began looking
for another job. I more or less created an idea that coincided with
what Comcast SportsNet was planning to do in October. I left the paper on 9/11 to join Comcast.

To
what degree was it that you didn’t want to cover the Eagles, versus
only being interested in covering the Flyers?

The NFL
beat is too orchestrated, too controlled, too difficult to do anything
original. Also, I like dealing with hockey players and I don’t like
dealing with football and baseball players who feel they are owed
something the second they become a pro.

Working for CSN Philly, your offering is now
entirely web-based. As a long-time newspaper veteran, was there any
hesitation to leave the medium?

It was the easiest
decision I ever made. Why? Newspapers are dying. The web is the future,
and smart newspapers look at the web as an ally and not an adversary.
The Inky/Daily News still haven’t figured that part out yet, which is going to
hurt them long into the future. Also, having worked with
Hockeybuzz.com, this was a natural progression for me.

Are there any differences between your current approach to covering the Flyers versus when you handled the beat for the Inquirer?

None. Everything I did for the Inquirer, I now do for
Comcast, except it appears on the web. I can write longer. I can write
additional stories without worry about an Inky editor telling me
there’s no room for a sidebar because we have 7 Eagles stories
tomorrow. There are NO deadlines. I can hang around longer after games
to get the player or two I would normally miss if I were still on the
Inquirer’s insane deadlines. Also, I have more time to write and that—theoretically—means cleaner copy, less dumb typos.


You’ve always been known as a guy who would ask the question
that needs asking, with Bob Clarke even answering "You’re an
asshole" at one point. Will there be any change in your approach
considering that you work for Comcast, which is a major part of the
Flyers’ ownership situation? You’re not going to go Spadaro on us, are
you?

No, and I give credit to Jon Litner, Peter Luukko and Ed
Snider, who made it clear to me that they wanted me to cover this team
like I did at the Inquirer. They each said to me that they didn’t want
a "house" man. They understand that the Flyers’ web site is a club site,
and that Comcast is independent of the NHL’s web sites. If you hear my
questions in post-game, I think you’ll agree I haven’t changed. I
pushed John Stevens hard last week on benching Scott Hartnell, and
Stevens answered with blunt, honest criticism of why he did it. I
haven’t changed, and my approach won’t change.

Which editor’s desk has stricter standards when writing about the Flyers, the Inquirer or Comcast SportsNet?

CSNPhilly.com is a work in progress, and over the next year, you will
see more hires, more changes. This is all new to them. I appreciate the
tough standards I had at the Inquirer. It’s made me a more responsible
journalist. I NEVER forget those standards when I write for Comcast. I intend to operate on the web as if this were a Pulitzer
Prize-winning newspaper.

How do you balance your content offering between writing for two online homes, CSNPhilly and HockeyBuzz.com?

Comcast and Hockeybuzz.com actually share some advertising and joint
ventures, such as Flyersbuzz.tv. It’s a good partnership. The rules are
simple: Comcast pays my salary; therefore, we break news on Comcast, and we
refer to that news on Hockeybuzz with a link back to Comcast. Hockeybuzz
is blog-oriented. My material on
CSNPhilly, for now, is more journalism-oriented. Eventually, we will add new material, and I anticipate a
blog for CSN as well.

On to the team… The Flyers have clearly underachieved for much of this
season. Do you feel they’ll be able to turn it around before Randy
Jones and Ryan Parent return, or are they in trouble without them?

Every time they seem ready to go into the tank again,
they rebound. I don’t see how they are going to afford Jones and Parent
unless they move someone, and I believe Luca Sbisa will go back to
juniors. His salary would come off the cap, but they would still have to
pay him out for the season. I feel a trade involving the defense and a
pricey forward will be coming in December. The back end of this team
would not have been such a problem had all these injuries not occurred
in the pre-season. Hatcher, Jones, Parent have missed every game.

You’ve
been on the record as supporting a move for the Panthers’ Jay
Bouwmeester, who is a player we’d love to see here as well. What kind
of player package will it take to land him, and do you think the Flyers
are interested?

I know the Flyers will be in the hunt once the Panthers decide
to move Bouwmeester. If I am Count Jacqula down there in Sunrise, Fla.,
I go the distance, wait til the trade deadline when teams get
desperate, then make my best deal. If I am Paul Holmgren, I come up
with a "best" deal right now and beat everyone to the punch. There are
two things in hockey every team covets: a franchise goalie and a No. 1
d-man who will be around a long time. Bouwmeester is that kind of guy.
By the way, Matt Carle has been impressive in his short stint here,
offensively—his passes out of the zone, and defensively—his shot
blocking.

Is Marty Biron good enough to lead the Flyers to a Stanley Cup winner?

Based on the season so far, definitely not. Based on last year’s
playoff run, I would have said yes. If Cam Ward can do it, so can Marty,
but his consistency needs to get back to where it was. He has been much
better and has solid numbers over the past 5 games though. That tells me he is
coming out of his funk. I need to see that Biron the rest of the way to
say he’s good enough to win it all.

Any predictions for the outcome of this season?

Second place in the Atlantic Division remains a possibility. As does fourth. It’s that tight. It depends on whether Stevens can keep this
team’s interest from waning like it did over stretches of last season. I
think that is something the Flyers see in Brendan Shanahan—a guy who can keep
the club heading in one direction and be rather vocal about it. Truth is,
Derian Hatcher was that guy, and not having him in the dressing room is
a huge loss for the club.

Our thanks to Tim for taking the time to talk with us. Look for more from him at CSNPhilly.com.