A last-ditch attempt at a settlement between the battling owners of the Inquirer, Daily News and philly.com failed today. Now the legal dispute between George Norcross and Lewis Katz now sits before a judge.
The drip, drip, drip of information and emails out of the ownership dispute surrounding the firing of Philadelphia Inquirer editor in chief Bill Marimow continues.
Now, a source close to the situation has released a few emails between Lewis Katz and publisher Bob Hall. In the emails, sent in August of this year, Katz and Hall discuss Marimow’s reluctance to fire some of his editors. The emails provide a window into the disputes that led up to Marimow’s firing, by Hall, last month, which sparked a series of lawsuits among the media company’s fractious ownership group.
In what now seems like a recipe for a long hair pull of a legal dispute, Interstate General Media, which owns the Inquirer, Daily News and philly.com, is essentially run by a two-man management committee of parking entrepreneur Katz and insurance mogul/New Jersey Democratic party boss George Norcross. According to the written terms of their agreement, the pair must reach some consensus on decisions related to “business and operational aspects of the company” but “shall have no authority with respect to editorial or journalistic policies and decisions.”
So the million dollar question is this: Is firing the editor in chief, or his subordinates, an editorial decision—or a business one?
Whoever wins the Philadelphia Newspaper War of 2013 will win control of a media empire — the Inquirer, Daily News and Philly.com — that by all accounts is stabilizing after years of decline. While print circulation has plummeted, overall circulation seems to be up. The papers are reportedly on the cusp of profitability. If the owners don’t blow millions of dollars on legal fees in the next few weeks and months, we’re told, happy days might almost be here again.
Getting a handle on just how much the condition of the papers have improved — or, perhaps, how much the decline has been slowed — can be tricky. For one thing, Interstate General Media, the owner of the three news entities, is privately held: It isn’t required to disclose — and will not provide — information on its finances to the public.
The other problem? The information that is public — specifically, circulation numbers provided through the Alliance for Audited Media — can be tough for outsiders to untangle.
[Update 3:08 pm with comment from Howard Gensler]
It’s official: The newspaper war in Philadelphia has become — in part — a battle for the hearts and minds of journalists at the Inquirer, Daily News and Philly.com.
Those journalists on Friday received memos from Gerry Lenfest and Lewis Katz, members of the “minority faction” of owners challenging the firing of former Inquirer editor Bill Marimow. The emails were distributed two days after journalists received a letter from George Norcross and William P. Hankowsky describing the issues facing the company and how his group planned to address them.
It’s unusual for an ownership battle to play out in a company’s workforce — the Newspaper Guild has offered to broker peace, but has otherwise insisted it will remain neutral — and it has raised concerns about both workplace morale and the continuing credibility of the news organizations.
The war over the future of Philly’s two daily newspapers took another odd turn Wednesday: The director of the Newspaper Guild representing the papers’ journalists exchanged insulting “open letters” with Gerry Lenfest, a member of the “minority faction” of owners suing over the recent firing of Inquirer editor Bill Marimow.
Bill Ross, executive director of the Newspaper Guild, in his letter accused Lenfest and Lewis Katz, who together comprise that minority faction, of misleading guild members about editorial decisions and plans to resolve the ownership conflict. Lenfest’s letter disputed Ross’s accusations, and responded: “I will at any time stake my reputation for honesty against your own.”
At the end of the day, Newspaper Guild president Howard Gensler, a gossip columnist for the Daily News, tried to walk back Ross’s letter— saying it shouldn’t have been made public. “It was the making those views public in conflict with the stated position of the Board that was the problem,” Gensler said, emphasizing that the union remains neutral in the battle between ownership factions.
Ross’s letter became public early Wednesday afternoon. Lenfest’s response was released to Philly Mag shortly after 5 p.m.
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.”
The legal war between the owners of Philadelphia’s major daily newspapers will continue on Nov. 13, a judge said today.
The major participants in that war—George Norcross, Gerry Lenfest and Lewis Katz, all partners in Interstate General Media—were in a City Hall courtroom today for a brief status hearing.
We told you yesterday that Interstate General Media—the company that owns the Inquirer, Daily News, and Philly.com—was on the verge of profitability for the first time in years. (Assuming the owners don’t blow the company’s money suing each other.) Now we know why: Weekday circulation for the combined newspaper is up significantly since last year, a potentially huge reversal after years of decline.
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.