Interview: Stan Wischnowski Leads Philly Newspapers to the Future

Stan Wischnowski has been named Vice President, News Operations for The Inquirer, Daily News and

Stan Wischnowski has been named Vice President, News Operations for The Inquirer, Daily News and

In an Inquirer newsroom often known for infighting and factionalism, longtime editor Stan Wischnowski somehow emerged with his own reputation … for being a nice guy.

Whether that reputation can help him survive in his new job is an open question. As the new vice president of news operations for Interstate General Media (a job that didn’t exist until new company owner Gerry Lenfest gave it to him this week), Wischnowski gets to set the strategic direction of the Inquirer, Daily News and

It’s a tall order:

• He has to manage the company’s long-faltering transition to the digital era — with his first job being to get and the newspapers to play nice with each other, to each side’s benefit, instead of constantly bickering.

• He has has to reinvigorate a Sunday paper that — even with large print circulation losses in the last year — remains the economic engine powering much that happens at the company.

• And he’ll probably need to do what nobody else in the industry has quite managed yet: Figure out how to make newspaper-style journalism pay — online or off — so that his newsrooms can continue to do their job for the next few decades.

It’s clear in talking to Wischnowski that — which, after all, has the largest audience of the three newsrooms — will be central to his strategy for distributing and promoting the journalism of all three.  “ is still the dominant website in the region and we have an opportunity to make it better,” he said. “I think we owe it to our users to make it much easier to find what it is they are looking for.”

Last week, following his promotion, Wischnowski spoke to PhillyMag about the task ahead. Some excerpts:

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Daily News Correction: Our Ex-Editor Didn’t Say ‘Horse Manure’

There’s a fantastic correction in today’s Daily News:

In yesterday’s “Chillin’ Wit’” column, a fond farewell to former Daily News editor Zack Stalberg as he heads west to New Mexico, Stalberg was misquoted as using the term “horse manure.” He responded: “I demand a correction. Does anyone really think I would use the word ‘manure’?” No. Stalberg actually said “horse s—.” And that’s no bull manure.

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Dear Inky: I Got It Wrong

This about sums it up.

I get it wrong sometimes.

I was wrong back in January 2013. At the time, new ownership had taken over at the Inquirer and Daily News — is the ever not the case —and immediately demanded millions  of dollars in wage and benefit cuts from the salaries of  journalists employed by the paper.

It seemed another example of a newspaper trying and failing to cut its way to profiitability, a plan that hadn’t worked at any of the other million or so papers that had been trying it recent years. So I offered a potential way out of the never-ending death spiral:

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Sarah Jessica Parker to Star in TV Show Based on Daily News Pulitzer

Ruderman and Laker (left); Parker (Shutterstock)

Ruderman and Laker (left); Parker (Shutterstock)

We already knew that Busted, the great true-crime dirty-cop book by Daily News reporters Barbara Laker and Wendy Ruderman, was a Philly classic. Can it be a TV classic?

We’re going to find out. Sarah Jessica Parker has signed on to star in a “limited series” TV show based on the book, which in turn is based on the Pulitzer-winning reporting the two journos did on the “Tainted Justice” series of Daily News articles that uncovered corruption on a Philly Police narcotics squad.

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Lenfest to Inquirer, Daily News Reporters: “Work Hard But Rest Easy”

Leaders of the Newspaper Guild, the union that represents the journalists of the Inquirer, Daily News, and, had their first formal meeting with new owner Gerry Lenfest on Tuesday. Some developments:

• Lenfest told the journalists he is “committed” to continuing with two papers, meaning the perpetually in danger Daily News can rest easy for the moment.

• He’s considering keeping as its own, independent entity with its own identity.

• He expects to have a publisher in place within three months.

• He does not expect to seek any wage cuts from journalists, and may offer a contract longer than two years during the next round of negotiations.

• He buried the hatchet with Bill Ross, the guild’s executive director. The two famously feuded by letter during the Inky’s ownership crisis.

A full memo from the Guild regarding the meeting, after the jump:

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The Last Days of the Philadelphia Inquirer?

Philanthropist H.G. "Gerry" Lenfest speak at a news conference after a closed-door auction to buy the The Philadelphia Inquirer and Philadelphia Daily News Tuesday, May 27, 2014, in Philadelphia. Photo | AP, Matt Rourke

Philanthropist H.G. “Gerry” Lenfest speak at a news conference after a closed-door auction to buy the The Philadelphia Inquirer and Philadelphia Daily News Tuesday, May 27th, 2014, in Philadelphia. Photo | AP, Matt Rourke

Let’s stipulate many things about Gerry Lenfest. That he’s a good man. A boon to the community. Somebody whose philanthropy has enriched this city beyond the usual ways of measuring. Philadelphia is better, much better, for his devotion to us.

But he is not the man to lead the Inquirer, Daily News, and into the future — which is the plan, now that the auction he and Lewis Katz won two weeks ago has ended with Wednesday’s official closing, putting the organizations into his hands. His leadership may, in fact, signal the effective demise of those publications.

Let’s be blunt about the reasons why.

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Drew Katz to Sell Interest in Inquirer, Daily News

Drew Katz, left, son of Lewis Katz, right, walk with philanthropist H.G. "Gerry" Lenfest to a news conference after a closed-door auction to buy the The Philadelphia Inquirer and Philadelphia Daily News Tuesday, May 27, 2014, in Philadelphia. Lenfest and businessman Lewis Katz are taking over Philadelphia's two largest newspapers with an $88 million auction bid. (AP Photo/Matt Rourke)

Drew Katz, left, son of Lewis Katz, right, walks with philanthropist H.G. “Gerry” Lenfest to a news conference after a closed-door auction to buy the The Philadelphia Inquirer and Philadelphia Daily News Tuesday, May 27, 2014, in Philadelphia.  (AP Photo/Matt Rourke)

Drew Katz is selling his interest in Interstate General Media, the company that his late father Lewis Katz won at auction just two weeks ago after a furious months-long fight over the ownership of Philadelphia’s major newspapers. The announcement Tuesday night appears to leave Gerry Lenfest, Lewis Katz’s partner in the bidding, the sole owner of those newspapers.

“Because of the turmoil of the last 10 days, I have made a decision that it would be in the best interests of the Inquirer, Daily News and for me to sell my interest in the company,” Drew Katz said in an email Tuesday night. “I believe strongly that the organization would be in excellent hands under the ownership of Gerry Lenfest now and in the years to come.”

The announcement came hours after a report at that Drew Katz had fallen out with Lenfest in the days since his father’s death, allegedly feeling he’d been elbowed out of decisions concerning the future of the papers by the older man — and resenting, reportedly, that Lenfest hadn’t offered any personal condolences about Lewis Katz’s death in a plane crash a week after the bidding concluded.

Drew Katz denied he’d had any falling-out with Lenfest.

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Busted Is a Philadelphia Classic


Over the weekend, I finally got around to reading Busted: A Tale of Corruption and Betrayal in the City of Brotherly Love, the March book by the Daily News Pulitzer-winning team of Wendy Ruderman and Barbara Laker. What a great book.

It’s an easy, breezy read — Philly Mag’s review called it a “captivating story” — but that’s not to say it’s insubstantial. Indeed, the narrative of how the two reported their “Tainted Justice” series of articles on police corruption for the paper deserves to take its place among the great works that have come to define Philadelphia in the popular mind — everything from Rocky to A Prayer for the City.

Three reasons you should read this book if you love Philadelphia: Read more »

Zack Stalberg to Leave Philadelphia for New Mexico

Zack Stalberg is leaving Philadelphia.

Stalberg, the former Daily News editor and head of elections-watchdog group the Committee of 70, announced this morning he’s leaving the organization to move to New Mexico. He had been in charge of the Committee since 2005. Previously, he was editor of the Daily News for 20 years.

“I spent 45 years in two similar high wire acts, which seems like plenty to me,” Stalberg said in the most esoteric of the many quotes sent out in a press release. “As the Redford character says at a point in The Electric Horseman, ‘I have just retired from public life.’” There is no word if Stalberg will travel across the country as Robert Redford’s character did in the 1979 film (on a $12 million electric horse stolen from a cereal company).

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(UPDATE) Brian Tierney Returns to the Inquirer; Lexie Norcross Out at

[UPDATE 3:23 pm] Philadelphia Business Journal reports that Lexie Norcross, daughter of departing owner George Norcross, is out at

An IGM spokesman confirmed that Lexie Norcross, daughter of George Norcross, will depart the company and her position as vice president of digital operations when the sale of the company is approved. That is scheduled to happen June 11 but with Katz’s death, that could be extended if the judge deems there to be any issues with his estate.

Lexie Norcross, 26, was a controversial figure partly because of her age and relation to George Norcross. But she also was accused of downplaying hard news in favor of fluff and tawdry stories, establishing a newsroom that competed against Inquirer and Daily News reporters and giving Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Corbett his own column. The two newspapers launched their own websites last year with most of the content behind pay walls.

[UPDATE 10:57 am] Lenfest follows up: “A point of clarification: In my enthusiasm for getting Brian Tierney on board, I indicated that he would be taking a leave of absence from his agency. Although he will be providing his support and attention as interim special advisor to the publisher, Brian will not be taking a leave from his company during this period.”

[ORIGINAL] Brian Tierney, the man who nearly a decade ago restored local ownership to the Inquirer and Daily News — then steered the papers into bankruptcy — is returning to the Inquirer, Interim Publisher Gerry Lenfest announced Monday morning.

“Brian Tierney will take a leave of absence from his firm to become an advisor to me focusing on advertising,” Lenfest said in an email to the the employees of the papers and

Tierney will be accompanied by a member of his old regime: Mark Frisby, who served as publisher of the Daily News under Tierney, “will become Associate Publisher for Operations effective immediately.”

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