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

It’s got to be strange for Marimow — an Old World guy trying to do a job with a New World allocation of resources. It’s got to be even weirder that at the same time he’s talking about loss, sacrifice and “all hands on deck,” his boss is going out on his own and hiring new staffers. In February, Tierney announced that Mark Bowden, author of Black Hawk Down, and conservative radio host Michael Smerconish would be writing for the Inquirer’s editorial page. Tierney recruited both men himself. He went after big game, reaching out to Rick Santorum and legal-potboiler auteur John Grisham. He also struck a deal to serialize the new thriller by Lisa Scottoline, Daddy’s Girl. (Tierney says he was jazzed about the Scottoline thing because the Inky has a history of serializing books “back to Charles Dickens.”) Scottoline will also write a column for the Image section, “sort of an Anna Quindlen, Ellen Goodman-type thing,” says Tierney.

More zero-sum choices. One Lisa Scottoline may equal two copy editors; one year of Mark Bowden’s political ramblings might pay for a Natalie Pompilio to be rehired. Tierney is selecting people he thinks will make the Inky more exciting. This impulse is hard to knock — for years, the rap on the Inky was its pervasive dullness, and some of the people Tierney finds and champions will no doubt conform to traditional journalistic standards of greatness — for instance, Tierney has tried to get a TV or movie deal for John Shiffman, a talented young Inky reporter who wrote a series on a Temple student who allegedly ran an Internet pill ring. Then again, some won’t. According to Tierney’s friend Brian O’Neill, Tierney realizes that newspapers have to “compete against the Internet, TV, racetracks, movie theaters, casinos, etc., and therefore they have to be entertaining, which is a refreshing example. And an example of a guy like Brian is Rupert Murdoch … who has made money in media by keeping it fun and interesting, and sometimes keeping it controversial.”

Normally, we don’t require publishers to have taste; we require them to make their bank payments. But Tierney isn’t a normal publisher. Ultimately, he’s not even a kooky, colorful press lord like Walter Annenberg. Annenberg, for all his petty blacklisting, didn’t pay much attention to the newspaper. He made his businessman’s bones in television and magazines. The worst he could do with the Inky was to casually poison its coverage. He could never have transformed the way it operated, because he wouldn’t have known where to start. Annenberg was just the sad, vindictive dipshit on the 12th floor.