Press Lord 2.0

Can a self-made adman with big ideas and a Walter Annenberg fascination save the Inquirer and Daily News? Maybe. But when Brian Tierney’s finished, the newspaper business may never be the same

I told him the Guild was disillusioned that Tierney would use his own mother’s restaurant union background in order to earn the Guild’s sympathy just prior to screwing them.

“Yeah, my mother was a member of the restaurant workers,” Tierney said. “I don’t think my mother could be anywhere compared to the people here who are making $100,000 a year and are getting 40 weeks’ sick pay. My mother would have wept to get one-tenth of what the Guild leadership gets.” He leaned forward and started speaking more slowly than usual. “So I won’t listen to people who never lose the crease in their pants on hot days. And are always warm on cold days. Who get paid six figures. I don’t really want to stand — I find it incomprehensible to get lectures in justice from those people.

“Can you understand where I’m coming from?”

the reporter dispatched to discover the meaning of “Rosebud” never finds it. I didn’t either. I’m tempted to guess that Tierney’s mother is his Rosebud, but honestly, if you’re a Rosebud-seeking reporter, Tierney is no fun. He wants you to know that he used to stutter. He wants to point out his mother’s humble alma mater from the balcony of his big new empire. He wants you to help him claw his way into the larger story of the newspaper and the city. “Regardless of how this turns out, it’ll be the first line in his obituary,” says Alison Grove. “He’s the local guy who bought the paper. It’ll be a good story.”

The bolder and newer the thinking, the better the story. So I’m guessing you won’t hear much more from Tierney about journalism as a vital public service. That was a useful story a year ago, when Tierney talked like a civic lion. These days, he wants to be a corporate turnaround artist like his friend Mike Hagan of NutriSystem — the kind of guy who’s celebrated in business-press features for Reviving The Brand. The idea that a newspaper owes something to its community beyond profits clearly isn’t what excites Tierney anymore, and maybe it never did. What excites him is the possibility that this cobwebby enterprise of American metro journalism — this business that belongs to the era of Charles Foster Kane — could be made to rhyme with the values and business climate of 2007, and that Brian P. Tierney could be the guy to make it happen. Forget the civic experiment. Philadelphia Media Holdings is a mere business experiment now.