It’s come to this in the Great Philadelphia Newspaper War of 2013: George Norcross is lobbying his own employees.
Leaders of the Newspaper Guild that represents the journalists of the Inquirer, Daily News, and Philly.com, said in a Monday afternoon memo that Norcross had urged them to “publicly support his campaign to get (his fellow) owners Lew Katz and Gerry (Lenfest) to sell their 42 percent minority ownership stake.”
“After an hour of spirited debate among the Board on the issue, the Guild Executive Board has decided to remain neutral,” said the memo from Bill Ross and Howard Gensler, the guild’s executive director and president, respectively.
Now, Ross and Gensler said, Norcross will be meeting in coming days with small rank-and-file groups of journalists from the newspapers and website. “We urge members to attend these meetings and ask questions,” they wrote. “If the Katz/Lenfest group requests similar meetings we will urge you to attend those also.”
We’ve sent emails to representatives for the differing ownership factions to get comment on this development. In particular, we’re curious as to why Norcross believes guild support will help his cause. (And also, why he thinks he might get it given a history of union encounters like the one Steve Volk described in his March profile of Norcross.) And finally, we’ve heard a lot about unhappiness among rank-and-file reporters about Philly.com’s direction, which is run by Norcross’s daughter, Lexie. In that context, what does Norcross have to tell them that might win their support?
[Update at 5:13 pm] Jay Devine, a spokesman for Katz and Lenfest, commented via email: “Mr. Katz and Mr. Lenfest never bought these newspapers for economic reasons. They believe in free and independent journalism that serves the public good. These latest, inappropriate lobbying and bullying efforts by Mr. Norcross are just one more example of his repeated attempts to interfere and not let journalists be journalists. We are pleased that the Guild continues to remain neutral despite this pressure. We once again reiterate our offer to execute a buy-sell agreement with a shotgun clause.”
[Update at 5:26 pm] Daniel Fee, a spokesman for the majority ownership group headed by Norcross, offers his own statement in response to Philly Mag inquiries:
“Mr. Norcross did in fact meet with the Guild leadership today, as he has on numerous previous occasions. He spent over 2 hours discussing the plans for the company and answering questions. He has a plan for continuing the progress the company has made — they’ve gone from losing almost $50,000 a day to being on the path to profitability –and asked them to help him put an end to the litigation he neither sought nor wanted. Everyone understands that the litigation filed by Mr Katz will cost the company hundreds of thousands, if not millions, of dollars that could be invested in the company itself. He is meeting with as many employees as possible in order to discuss what the company has done and where it is headed. Mr. Norcross believes that it is in the best interest of the company if everyone is focused on and committed to the future. That’s why he’d like the Guild’s
support and the support of every IGM employee.
“As for philly.com, Mr. Norcross is simply telling them the truth: Upon its purchase, the company began a substantial survey and planning process to learn more about who its readers are and what they want. It identified challenges for each entity, but it also revealed one piece of extremely good news: the three journalistic entities appeal to different audiences and do not materially complete with each other for readership. Their readership is largely different, and therefore so too can be their focus be different. Moreover, they have learned that philly.com is a key outlet for re-engaging readers who left reading the papers years ago. More than 85 percent of philly.com’s page views are either from their own original content or non-Inquirer/Daily News partner content.”