Will the Media Be Shut Out of the Inky Auction?

All the details are set for the final battle for the newspaper’s future.

George Norcross (left) and Lewis Katz in court late last year. AP Photos | Matt Rourke

George Norcross (left) and Lewis Katz in court late last year. AP Photos | Matt Rourke

Ralph Cipriano at BigTrial.Net brings us all the details of the auction that will determine the future of the Inquirer, Daily News, and Philly.com. It’s scheduled for 9:30 a.m., May 27th, at the law offices of Dechert LLP in Philadelphia. George Norcross, who represents the majority faction of owners that triggered the crisis last fall by firing Inky Editor Bill Marimow, will open the bidding at $77 million.

After that, the group led by Lewis Katz will have exactly 10 minutes to make a bid exactly $1 million higher. As Cipriano observes: “It could all be over in 10 minutes if Katz and (Gerry) Lenfest don’t bid $78 million.”

There’s just one dispute left to resolve, and it contains no small amount of irony given the stakes: The two sides can’t agree if the media will be allowed to cover the auction directly, or if reporters will have to sit outside and wait for the results. Katz’s group wants the process closed; Norcoss wants it open. The issue may be decided at the last moment, before the auction gets under way.

Bill Ross, the executive director of the Newspaper Guild of Greater Philadelphia, called the proposal to close the auction “mind-boggling.”

“I think it’s hypocritical to want to block the press and reporters from attending this auction that’s basically been public since the first filing,” Ross said. A lawyer for the Guild sent a letter today to the Delaware court seeking to open the auction.

“I’m hoping that the judge will agree with our opinion that we and our members be allowed to attend the auction,” Ross said. After an open battle in court, with plenty of leaked emails along the way, “Why would they take this position that no one should attend and that the results shouldn’t be made open to the press,” Ross said. “Again, it’s mind-boggling.”

The auction could be just the beginning of upheaval: Depending on who wins, major changes to the Inky’s masthead seem likely to happen almost immediately. It’s going to be a wild ride for the newsroom either way, almost certainly.

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