UPDATE: The auction is over. Katz and Lenfest have prevailed.
ORIGINAL: Once upon a time, less than a decade ago, Knight Ridder owned Philadelphia’s two major daily papers. It then sold to McClatchy, which very quickly turned around and sold to PR maven Brian Tierney. Tierney took the papers into bankruptcy; some hedge funds brought it out. Then they sold to a group of local investors headed by George Norcross. Today, that group officially dissolves — to be replaced by a smaller group led by Norcross, or another led by current “minority faction” owners Lewis Katz and Gerry Lenfest.
When the opening gavel falls at 9:30 a.m. at the law offices of Dechert LLP, somebody has to blink. After Norcross makes that opening bid of $77 million, as he promised in court, the question is, in the next ten minutes, what will Katz do? When he has to decide whether to trump that bid by at least $1 million, or go home?
It’s a guessing game that’s keeping Inquirer and Daily News reporters up at night. While the media is barred from witnessing the auction, taxpayers have a stake in the local drama. Of that $77 million auction price, $2 million will go to cover a little-publicized sweetheart loan from the city back in 2012 that financed the newspapers’ move to new offices on Market Street.
Fortunately on behalf of freedom of the press, the judge overruled Katz on his desire to close off the auction results. The amount of the winning bid will supposedly be divulged within an hour after it’s made at tomorrow’s auction.
Philly Mag will have a reporter at the auction to report the results just as soon as we know them. Earlier this year, Steve Volk wrote about how the papers had descended into such a mess.