Inky and Daily News Owner Antics Are Pathetic

A former Inquirer columnist weighs in on the recent drama surrounding the sale of Philly's two daily newspapers.

Why all the Sturm and Drang about potential new owners for the Inquirer? Judging by recent history, whoever closes that particular dealYo won’t stick around long.  On the cusp of its fifth owner in six years, the Inquirer has become the Elizabeth Taylor of daily newspapers. Don’t like the current husband-owner? Wait a while. This time, the new suitor won’t need the Krupp diamond to get to the altar.

I worked at the Inquirer for 30 years, including 25 as its television columnist. For 27 of those years, ownership was a constant. I didn’t think about it much, except to bitch about staff cuts, like everyone else. Mostly, it was above my pay grade. Toward the end, however, there was no more pressing topic in the newsroom.

When I left, in 2009, the Inky, along with the Daily News and, was on the verge of bankruptcy under Brian Tierney and was headed to auction. Sold in 2010 to two hedge funds and a consortium of creditors, it’s again back in play.

With the newspaper industry on life support, you wonder why anyone deemed fit to stand trial would choose to wade into that financial quicksand, regardless of how digitized Philadelphia Media Network says it is. Still, potential owners are out there—Ed Rendell, Bart Blatstein, Raymond Perelman, all local.

While many inside and outside PMN passionately argue that Rendell’s politically-connected group would present a grave conflict of interest, current ownership, in all its wisdom, has been pushing Rendell by censoring its own coverage of the sale.

Management denies censorship, of course, even though the entire PMN staff knows that certain scheduled stories and blogs about the sale didn’t just suddenly disappear by themselves.  The whole incident would have been laughable, had it not been so blatant and pathetic.

Equally pathetic was last week’s denial by PMN chief executive Greg Osberg to the New York Times that he had held a meeting earlier this month with top editors about sale coverage. (At this meeting, the editors were reportedly told that all stories had to get Osberg’s approval before dissemination.)

Only after Daily News editor Larry Platt, a participant at the meeting, bravely went on record confirming that it had taken place did Osberg come clean on that score.

Osberg’s performance didn’t exactly boost newsroom morale. Less than 48 hours later, more than 300 PMN staffers signed a public statement calling on current and future owners of the company to keep their mitts off the editorial process.

Despite everything, I remain loyal to my alma mater and wish it well. But there’s no denying that PMN has made some balls-out, bone-headed moves. Here’s a tip: Don’t lie to the New York Times. Here’s another tip: Don’t piss on your staff’s boots and tell them it’s raining.

If PMN is trying to queer the sale, they’re doing a damn fine job. If they’re trying to push the sale to Rendell by any means necessary, same thing. Either way, it’s the employees who are getting screwed. And that is not good news for anybody who cares about the news business.