Nobody Knows Who the Inky’s News Columnists Are

Meanwhile: The Newspaper Guild really wants to stay neutral

Two developments this morning to mention in the ongoing war between the owners of the Inquirer, Daily News, and Philly.com.

First, we mentioned this yesterday in an update to the news of all the maneuvering being done by the various ownership factions of Interstate General Media, but the Newspaper Guild is making a very strong effort to stay neutral in the fight, even while being prepared to broker peace. Bill Ross and Howard Gensler, the guild’s director and president, respectively,  emphasized that neutrality in a late-Wednesday memo to the rank-and-file reporters.


"While the Guild has long agreed that our having a seat at the table and aligning our interests with the company’s 'leaders,' would absolutely be good for the company, we have made no agreement to enter into business with the majority partners," the duo wrote. "We have spoken to both the Norcross group and the Lewis Katz-Gerry Lenfest group about taking a possible ownership stake in the company once it becomes clear what the new ownership group will be, but we are not taking sides in this fight even though we are now being wooed as allies by the very same owners who hit us up for $6 million in givebacks eight months ago."

Ross had earlier suggested—in a limited, qualified way—that the guild might invest in ownership as part of a resolution to the current war. In the memo, he and Gensler walked that back just a tiny bit, writing that "such an investment would be subject to the approval of the executive board and the membership and we’re confident would lead to an evening of vigorous debate."

In the meantime, Washington Post media blogger Erik Wemple has gotten his hands on IGM's internal research that A) reduced the Inquirer's editorial pages to one a day and B) eventually got editor Bill Marimow fired, setting off the ownership dispute. It's not necessarily flattering to a paper's self-conception.

The research from Greenberg Quinlan Rosner included the following observations:

“Our summer research on the Inquirer shows that the paper’s columnists are essentially unknown, and they are not a driving influence on either readership or the decision to subscribe.” And: “Our summer research on the Inquirer shows, while editorials are read and liked by some of our audience, they are not a driving influence on either readership or the decision to subscribe for the vast majority of readers.”

Wemple goes on:

Whatever the provenance of the meeting, the message of the documents on the table was unmistakable. They were merciless in their pounding of the Inquirer’s columnists and editorials. Some choice moments: The only Inquirer columnist to get “even a semblance of recognition,” reads the memo, is Michael Smerconish, the irrepressible multiplatform opinionator who occasionally pops up on MSNBC. He’s recognized by 3 percent of the Inquirer market, 4 percent of readers and “just 9 percent of subscribers.” “Even if readers want a little opinion and commentary (which we believe they do, just less than the paper has now), they do not appear to care who authors said content,” reads the memo.

The flip side, though, is this:

At the same time, the memo concedes that “30 percent of readers say they ‘always’ read the columnists and opinions. This figure is decent, but well below the 53 and 46 percent who say they always read the local news and national news, respectively.” A seasoned journo might question the fruit-comparability of columnists to “local news” and “national news.”

As presented by Wemple, at least, the research was being used by Norcross to make the newspapers a customer-friendly business—not the worst thing in the world, frankly—but in such a way that seemed to see the papers ... as just a business, not necessarily taking their larger role in the community into account. And as Wemple observes, the standards applied to the opinion parts of the newspaper weren't necessarily applied to other parts: “They seem to have cherry-picked opinion and editorial coverage,” he quotes one source as saying. Make of that what you will.