It’s been a few weeks since we had a good media controversy in town. The new owners of the Philadelphia Media Network—which owns the Inquirer, Daily News, and Philly.com—are settling in quietly. Greg Osberg is gone, taking his baggage with him. Then again, Wendy Ruderman is also gone, to New York, taking some way cooler baggage with her. Which leads to a thought:
Now would be a great time for Bart Blatstein to buy the Daily News.
I’m not privy to any inside information about Blatstein, developer extraordinaire and onetime wannabe media mogul. And there have been no indications that the Philadelphia Media Network is actually interested in spinning off one of its major properties. But such a sale might be good for the Daily News, Blatstein and Philadelphia. Here’s why:
The Daily News is the red-headed stepchild of PMN
It’s never been the more respected of the city’s two remaining major dailies, but it’s easy to make an argument that the Daily News is a much better Philadelphia newspaper—because it’s relentlessly about Philadelphia, in a way that the Inquirer and its richer suburban readership don’t have any interest in matching.
Nonetheless, rumors of impending death have stalked the DN for decades—all the way back to the 1950s, when Inquirer owner Walter Annenberg bought and saved it from declining circulation and deep staff cuts. Being the little brother might’ve been a boon to the Daily News once, but not lately: It’s been subsumed into the Inquirer’s identity for a few years as a “branded edition” of the bigger paper, sharing photographs and now news stories. Will Bunch almost has almost made a second career out of publicly pleading with the paper’s new owners not to shut it down. And there’s some question about whether PMN cares enough about the paper to even put its name on its new office building.
Enough already. PMN doesn’t do itself any favors bankrolling the endless decline of the Daily News brand. Best to kill it outright—or let somebody else buy and run it. Somebody rich and ambitious.
Bart Blatstein would love to own his own newspaper.
When he was shut out of bidding for PMN this spring, Blatstein threatened to start his own operation. There haven’t been any public signs that he’s followed through on that threat—so maybe the dream of being a new era Charles Foster Kane was a fleeting ambition.
Still, Blatstein is a Philly guy. He’s around for the long haul. He’s certainly attempting to leave a lasting mark on the city, with the creation of the Piazza and the proposed renovation of the old Inky building at 400 N. Broad. What could be more legacy-enhancing than saving and bankrolling a civic treasure like the Daily News?
Yes, Blatstein would bring some tough conflicts-of-interests to newspaper ownership. Guess what? Anybody who wants to buy a newspaper these days probably does. Philadelphians aren’t suckers: They’ll be able to see if a Blatstein paper is a shill for his interests. If they don’t like it, they can always turn back its competitors.
Speaking of competition …
Philadelphians would be well-served by competing daily newspapers.
We talk a lot about the decline of the city’s major dailies, but the truth is that the news agenda in this town is still largely driven by them. Sometimes, that works for ill—remember it took the New York Times to uncover recent censorship problems within the newspapers. Competition—for eyeballs, for stories, for Philadelphia itself—would be a great thing for local news junkies. Both papers might find themselves invigorated by the chance to throw a few elbows once in awhile.
Then again, maybe an independent Daily News would fall flat on its face and die.
Common ownership of the Inquirer and Daily News doesn’t seem to be leading either paper to greatness or renewed health. An independent Inky might direct its waning resources into finding its own path to survival; an independent DN might thrive as something more than an afterthought in its own company.
It will take somebody with deep pockets and daring—somebody like Blatstein—to make it happen.