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

 

Beneath that corporate logo, the Inquirer, the Daily News and Philly.com will be listed in small letters, equals in the new digital world. But the question, going forward, is if anything Osberg is planning will alter the trajectory of a business, and an industry, that has for many years now trended only downward. And on this subject, Osberg himself seems far from sure.

GREG OSBERG turns up at the Franklin Institute maybe 10 minutes late on a cold December evening. Still smiling, his thinning hair whipped into a pile atop his head by the Christmas-season winds, he is quickly greeted by Daily News editorial page editor Sandra Shea, who whisks him off to be introduced to more Philadelphians he hasn’t yet met.

The occasion is a cocktail party preceding the World Affairs Council’s Atlas Award ceremony, and the attendees include Mayor Michael Nutter, School District Superintendent Arlene Ackerman, and pretty much everyone else with a stake in city schools.

For Osberg, however, there is seemingly only one conversation. “This is Greg Osberg,” says Shea. “He’s the new CEO of Philadelphia’s newspapers.”

The response is nearly always the same: a starstruck “Hello!” followed by an enthusiastic “Congratulations!”

“Yeah?” responds Osberg, a playful trace of sarcasm in his voice. “See if you’re still congratulating me in a year.”

Each time, those gathered around laugh appreciatively. And Osberg laughs, too. But he is deftly keeping to a strategy. He’s under-promising, in the hopes of over-delivering.

The conversations don’t last very long. And after a few minutes, he excuses himself by saying he wants to “go get a drink.” But each time, another constituent appears: a transition director for governor-elect Tom Corbett, a foundation chief, a charter school president.

“Congratulations!” they say, hands outstretched.  

“Yeah!” Osberg replies. “Come talk to me in a year!”

Business cards are exchanged, and off he goes, and each time he stops short of the bar, seizing on another hand to shake.  

This was the beginning of a long night for Osberg. In fact, his second big board meeting was scheduled for just two days later. And he was planning to spend the next several hours preparing for it.

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