Inquirer Cockfight! How Old, Out-of-Touch Men Ruined a Newspaper

Would things be different if more women had power?

The tragic kabuki dance being played out by the owners of the Philadelphia Inquirer shares a dubious distinction with the Inky staff – all the major players are men.

Interstate General Media, which has title to the Inquirer, Daily News and, is in a raging internecine cockfight over which roosters will rule the Inky newsroom. IGM had pledged complete editorial autonomy when it bought the business in April 2012.

Yet in the last two weeks, the quarreling cocks have filed no fewer than three lawsuits, all triggered by editor Bill Marimow’s sudden firing by publisher Bob Hall. (Legal proceedings begin today.)

Lewis Katz and H.F. “Gerry” Lenfest claim Hall wasn’t authorized to dismiss Marimow. They want him back, and Hall gone. George Norcross claims Katz has “repeatedly violated” his promise to stay out of newsroom politics. He wants Marimow to stay gone. Hall has moved to dismiss Katz’s suit altogether.

In a different era, this classic masturbatory manifestation of “Mine’s bigger!” would have been entertaining, at the very least. But with the newspaper industry on life support, it has the air of a Shakespearian tragedy unfolding in real time. One could choke on the hubris. Meanwhile, Rome burns.

The cold, hard truth is this: These Rich, Aging, Out-of-Touch, White Dudes (all but one) could represent the final nail in the Inky’s coffin. As the corporate partners battle each other in court, the newsroom vibe is “surreal,” according to one seasoned reporter. “Everybody is suing everybody. It’s a scary time.”

The biggest fear among staffers is that IGM will get fed up and put the paper on the block for the sixth time in seven years. If the Inquirer were a bride, they’d throw Minute Rice at her weddings.

Among the IGM boys, there is but one female with any power, and hers comes only through proxy. Inky City Editor Nancy Phillips, among Marimow’s staunchest defenders, is Lewis Katz’ longtime girlfriend. To underestimate her behind-the-scenes influence in the struggle would be a mistake.

Like IGM, the Inky newsroom is run by men. Under Marimow, women have virtually disappeared from the masthead. This has not gone unnoticed by veteran females at the paper. Many are angry. But they stay quiet for fear of rocking an already-rocking boat. When survival is in question, sexism has to wait.

So does favoritism, another frequent criticism of Marimow’s imperious management style. Since his firing, however, he has been deified by the media. More than 400 journalists from around the country have signed a petition demanding his reinstatement.

While extolling his impeccable journalism credentials, the media have made scant mention of any staff critiques of his management style. Isn’t good management as important as good journalism? Reporting one without the other presents a simplistic picture of a complex situation.

Like it or not, the Inky deserves better. And so do we.

Full disclosure: The writer worked at The Inquirer for 30 years, until 2009.