There was a lot of story buried in a piece the Inquirer published in April on one of its brand-new owners, Lewis Katz, the Camden-raised entrepreneur, sports-team owner and philanthropist: “Katz and his wife, Marjorie, have two children. The couple have lived apart for many years. Katz is in a long-term relationship with Nancy Phillips, an award-winning Inquirer investigative reporter.”
On one level, the passage is remarkably French—identifying both Katz’s wife and his mistress without so much as the literary equivalent of a raised eyebrow. On another, it raises a host of questions, from exactly how these relationships work to what the heck will be going on at the Inquirer when one of its reporters is also a de facto owner.
In the short term, Phillips’s role at the paper has changed. Philadelphia Media Network spokesperson Mark Block returned a phone call inquiring about Phillips with an email statement that she has been “temporarily detached” from her editorial duties “so that she can provide owners and management with her undivided attention and expertise in conducting research and important analysis of the company.”
Phillips herself failed to returns calls requesting a comment for this story. But inside word is that she’s using her skills as an investigative reporter to review, primarily, the business and advertising sides of the operation—to try and find a way out of the economic death spiral that’s undermined newspapers everywhere. While Block indicated in a second email that there’s precedent for editorial staffers helping out in other departments—he cited three cases—Newspaper Guild executive Bill Ross can’t remember “anyone who’s been asked to use their investigative skills on another part of the company.”
Meanwhile, a source with knowledge of the recent sale negotiations says Greg Osberg, who resigned as publisher on May 11th, had been asked by the new owners to loop in the guy who steered the paper into a February 2009 bankruptcy— Brian P. Tierney—as a “consultant.” This move, too, which Osberg apparently resisted, suggests Phillips’s influence is strong, since she, like newly reinstalled editor Bill Marimow, had a friendly relationship with Tierney.
This article originally ran in the June 2012 issue of Philadelphia magazine.