6 Burning Questions About the New Owners of the Inquirer and Daily News

Can this group take the newspapers into the future?

Attorney Richard Sprague, left, advised Lew Katz, center, and Gerry Lenfest on their bid to control the Inquirer and Daily News.

Attorney Richard Sprague, left, advised Lewis Katz, center, and H.F. “Gerry” Lenfest on their bid to control the Inquirer and Daily News.

Now that the Inky ownership battle has been resolved in favor of Lewis Katz and H.F. “Gerry” Lenfest, the guys we used to refer to as the “minority ownership faction” of the Inquirer, Daily News, and Philly.com — we’ll just refer to them as the “owners” from now on — we’ve got a few burning questions about the future of the newspapers

•Does anybody know what to do next? Sure doesn’t look like it. As soon as Messrs. Katz and  Lenfest presented themselves to the media, reporters questioned them about the future of the papers: Who will be publisher? How to address declining circulation? Will there still be three websites? How to address declining revenue? What’s the plan?




The plan, reporters were told repeatedly, hasn’t been developed yet.

“We have to figure out the future,” Lenfest said. “We’re not there yet.”

Which is odd. The two men have been part owners of the papers for at least a year-and-a-half. They’re rich, which presumably means they’re no dummies when it comes to making money. They just bid $88 million on what they admit is a declining asset. And they have no idea how to turn it around? Uh-oh.

"We do have a plan,” Lenfest amended when pressed. “The plan is to go out and hire the best publisher and CEO" to fix the papers, he said. That’s better than no plan at all, but given the knowledge and money involved, it’s odd the two men seem so unprepared for what’s next.

• Which old faces will be most prominent under the new regime? Bill Marimow, whose firing as Inky editor last year set off the ownership squabble that resulted in today’s auction, probably is newly secure in that role. No surprise there. One face that might pop up? Brian Tierney, the former owner and publisher who steered the newspapers into bankruptcy back in 2009. But he won’t be back in a formal role.

“He may consult with us,” Lenfest said of Tierney. “But he has his own company.”

• What just happened to George Norcross’s aura of invincibility? A lot of people — your humble correspondent included — assumed Norcross would win, because what George Norcross wants, George Norcross gets. Nope. Not necessarily. Let the word go out throughout South Jersey: The boss can be beaten. (Free advice to anybody who buys this line of thinking: Just because it has happened doesn't mean it will happen for you.)

(On a similar note, let’s get an understanding straight with the Inquirer. Everybody bitched and moaned about having Norcross as a boss; if the paper now does some fantastic investigative work in the next year “exposing” Norcross, it’s going to look less like public service and more like payback. And believe me, there are people who expect the payback. There are papers that can do the work without looking like they have a conflict. The Inquirer never will be one of those papers again, as far as Norcross is concerned.)

• Is there a showdown with the unions coming? Probably. Bill Ross, director of the Newspaper Guild that represents the journalists at the papers, launched a pre-emptive strike, warning: “We’re done giving. We want to build this company.”

But it simply doesn’t happen these days that a newspaper company changes hands without new owners having a “come to Jesus” moment with employees. Maybe Katz and Lenfest will defy history, but that would probably require them having a plan. Which they don’t.

• Can these guys handle media scrutiny? If you’re a reporter in the employ of Messrs. Katz and  Lenfest, Tuesday’s presser probably wasn’t encouraging. Katz, in particular, seemed to get testy as the questioning progressed — complaining about the “appropriateness” of personnel questions so soon after bidding concluded. The event concluded with a reporter asking the duo if they’d taken on debt in order to make the $88 million bid.

Katz stood up, thrust his hands into his pocket, and jutted his chin forward aggressively. “No!” he spit out. It did not appear friendly. The press conference clearly ended at that point. It was enough to make a journalist at the papers wonder if they’ll get support asking more than routine questions of people in power.

• What will things look like five years from now? At a reported age of 71, Katz is the, uh, “junior” partner to Lenfest, reportedly 82. This is not an ownership group built for the long haul.

They’ll create a governing board designed to nip conflicts — like the kind they had with Norcross — in the bud. But sooner or later, then men and their deep pockets won’t be around to shore up the newspapers. What then? And how soon till we get to that point?

The day started with one question: Who will own the papers next? There are now many more questions to ask, with no easy answer. For the Inquirer and Daily News, the future is never all that clear.

Follow @JoelMMathis on Twitter.

 

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  • matthew brandley

    Left wing liberal media. its dying fast. people have grown so sick and tired of being told whats good for them by the government and by the media

  • Pat

    Norcross got beat down because he may have the power to get what he wants from Politicians, he doesn’t have a bank account to compete with Katz and Lenfest. They were insulted by him and they would have gone to any price to beat him.
    What is 45 million to each of these guys? They have that in their change cup. They just wanted to squash Norcross.

  • http://theCBDguide.com Logan Lynn Roberts

    I think Philadelphians need to take note of this situation & take it seriously. It’s pretty clear we are falling behind in the media world & it is so incredibly important for individuals, buisinesses & CITIES alike to be positioning themselves as powerful media outlets in the current climate. Attention is the only commodity & it’s important that Philadelphia regain some authority.

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  • Myles F

    As a newly arrived Philadelphian (and media professional), I’m delighted the paper was “acquired” by local business people and not an out-of-town chain. I hope.
    Would have felt better has the owners presented a 30-6-90-day plan of attach. Myles Fuchs, VP NewsHQ 215 622 2913

  • PJJ

    Maybe their “plan” was simply to keep Norcross from getting control of the paper…And I seem to recall that during the mano-a-mano combat, a good number of confidential memos from his side somehow seemed to find a way to PhillyMag’s in-basket…..

  • Miguel Sanchez

    The inquirer has always sucked. Here is the future they will lose more money from subscriptions and revenue. Then comes more layoffs. The next owners will buy it for $60 million.