The Long Fall of Philly Newspapers

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Oh, what an ugly difference a dozen years can make.

At the beginning of the 21st century, the newspaper business was a happy one, fed by fat profit margins and a lack of competition in most cities. Philadelphia was no different: Yes, it had two major daily papers, but they shared an owner, reached different audiences — and maximized revenue.

What’s happened since then has been brutal. Everybody knows about the bankruptcy, revolving door ownership, and multiple rounds of layoffs that the Inquirer and Daily News — along with their digital cousin, Philly.com — have experienced in recent years. But a new document obtained by Philadelphia magazine shows just how deep the pain went.

The document is called “Interstate General Media: EBITDA Trend – 2000-2012.” (EBITDA stands for “earnings before interest, taxes, depreciation, and amortization” and is one way to measure a company’s profitability.) And it reveals how the finances of Philadelphia’s leading newspapers imploded during that time — a period covering four owners: Knight Ridder, McClatchy, Brian Tierney, and finally the hedge fund owners who brought the newspapers out of bankruptcy. The last two years — that include two different sets of local ownership, one headed by George Norcross, the more recent one by Gerry Lenfest — are not included.

The document reveals:

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The Paywall Gets a Little Lower at the Inky Website

The hard and high paywall is dead. Long live the somewhat lowered paywall.

More than a year after the Inquirer and Daily News unveiled their new websites — hidden behind “hard” paywalls that required a paid subscription (or, more often, an access code) to read — the paywalls are softening a bit. Starting today, readers who go to Inquirer.com via links on Facebook or Twitter will get to read the story for free.

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Interstate General Media Spokesman Mark Block Has Resigned

Mark Block, the spokesman for Interstate General Media, publishers of the Inquirer and Daily News, has resigned. He is being replaced by Jonathan Tevis.

Block, whose career spanned a number of ownership groups at the papers and Philly.com, was often the face of the company during difficult times; big internal emails often went out under his name.

According to Linkedin, Tevis has been rising on the biz side of the newspapers since 2006. He’d taken a more public role since Gerry Lenfest’s acquisition of the papers, so this transition isn’t a huge surprise.

Block’s farewell email, below:

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Interview: Stan Wischnowski Leads Philly Newspapers to the Future

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

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

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 Philly.com.

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 Philly.com 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 Philly.com — 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.  “Philly.com 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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Veteran Inky Editor Stan Wischnowski Promoted to IGM’s Vice President of News Operations

Stan Wischnowski-400x400Stan Wischnowski, a veteran Inquirer editor who sometimes has held the newspaper’s top spot during Bill Marimow‘s occasional firings, is getting a promotion: He’ll be the newly created vice president of news operations at Interstate General Media, overseeing the strategic planning, budgeting, and staffing at the Inky, Daily News, and Philly.com.

The announcement was made Tuesday night by Gerry Lenfest, IGM’s owner and the interim publisher of the papers. Wischnowski will report directly to Lenfest in his new role.

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Interview: David Boardman and the Future of Philly Newspapers

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Meet David Boardman. It’s possible you’ve not heard of him, but he may have a lot of influence over how you get your news in Philadelphia in coming years. He’s the dean of Temple University’s School of Media and Communication, and it’s from that perch — he’s been at Temple about a year — that he informally advised the late Lewis Katz as Katz prepared his final bid for the city’s major daily newspapers earlier this summer.

But that’s not been Boardman’s only move. He pulled the plug on the little-seen Axis Philly website in June and instead announced that Temple would help fund journalism startups in the city. First up: Brother.ly, a forthcoming website from former WashingtonPost.com editor Jim Brady and a crew of about six local journalists.

One thing to understand about Boardman: He’s not some ivory tower egghead. He spent three decades at the Seattle Times, rising from reporter to top editor and helping that paper win several Pulitzer Prizes along the way. He’s gone through the pain of every news industry veteran, laying off trusted friends and colleagues, but he’s also given a lot of thought to what newspapers should look like in the future. Hint: There’s not quite as much paper involved.

He talked to Philly Mag last week about that future:

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McCaffery’s Suit Survives First Inky Objections

Seamus McCaffery can proceed with his lawsuit against the Philadelphia Inquirer, a judge ruled this week.

McCaffery, a Pennsylvania Supreme Court justice, is suing — along with his wife — over a 2013 Inky regarding legal “referral” fees she collected. That story led to rules changes at the court, and an FBI investigation, but McCaffery said he did nothing wrong.

The paper’s lawyers this week argued that editors and journalists have the job “to highlight what public officials are doing and let the public make its own determination on the conduct.” McCaffery’s lawyer once again pointed out that then-publisher Bob Hall questioned the worthiness of the story after it was published.

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Dear Inky: I Got It Wrong

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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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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 Philly.com, 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 Philly.com 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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Lawyer: McCaffery Cleared in FBI Probe

A Pennsylvania Supreme Court justice says the FBI has cleared him of wrongdoing for the activities described in a 2013 Philadelphia Inquirer story at the heart of his lawsuit against the paper.

Seamus McCaffery and his wife, Lise Rapaport, are suing the paper for “false light invasion of privacy,” saying the Inquirer made it look like they’d committed wrongdoing when Rapaport — a sometimes judicial aid to her husband — took hundreds of thousands of dollars in “referral fees” for steering cases to law firms that later appeared  before her husband in court. In a majority of those cases, the Inquirer reported, the firm that paid the fees received a positive vote from McCaffery.

The report resulted in new ethics rules at the court, as well as an FBI probe. During preliminary arguments in the case today, McCaffery’s lawyer, Dion Rassias, said McCaffery had been cleared. The Legal Intelligencer reports:

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