Feature: Greg Osberg: Savior?

The genial but bold-thinking new CEO of the Inquirer and Daily News represents the papers’ last best hope to survive in the age of digital news. At stake is nothing less than how Philadelphia knows what it knows

 

In sum, the Inquirer should be a smart, serious and thorough compendium of all things Philly, while the Platt-led Daily News will serve as a loud and irreverent take on the subjects that most readily lend themselves to broader brushstrokes. This means fewer staff members from both papers covering the same events and fewer redundant stories. But realistically, expecting many Philadelphians to begin buying both papers could prove a fever dream — a newspaper executive’s ephemeral wish to remake a citywide culture in which one’s choice of newspaper has proven a decades-long statement of identity. Put crudely: cheesesteaks and the Daily News, or a luncheon salad and the Inquirer?

Osberg and his newly assembled executive team concede that specific details about how his vision will be achieved are lacking. For instance, one wonders how the Inquirer will stuff the A section with more original stories without more staff, or how Platt — who has zero daily newspaper experience — will make the transition to running a tabloid. “He will have a wealth of people around him who have many years of experience with closing a newspaper,” Osberg says. “And he has a ton of ideas and is very excited about making the Daily News a must-read for everyone in the city.”

 Osberg’s vice president of external affairs, Mark Block, likes to frame the new CEO’s stance in careful terms. “We don’t want to over-promise and under-deliver,” he says, which seems prudent given that all Osberg’s plans are subject to the company’s financial success — or lack thereof.

“That new management team is trying to catch a falling knife,” says Anne Gordon. “When the revenue is dropping and no one knows where the floor is, it’s tough to make plans.”

In fact, multiple sources with knowledge of the company’s finances say fourth-quarter revenue was down 14 percent from 2009 — the Christmas bump-turned-blip.

When I bring up Gordon’s metaphor of catching a falling knife, Osberg agrees it’s apt — yet he stays upbeat, his omnipresent smile still gleaming. “Well, you catch the knife by the handle, right?” he says. “That’s where experience comes in.”

“I CAME IN HERE once when I wasn’t smiling,” says Greg Osberg, “and you called me on it, didn’t you?”

Osberg is standing in the Inquirer’s cafeteria, addressing a big, grinning, middle-aged cashier. “You bet I did,” she says, clearly enjoying the recognition of the company’s top guy. “But you’re smiling today!”

“You bet!” responds Osberg, enthusiastically. “Why wouldn’t I be?”

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