New Publisher to Scrutinize Separate Newsrooms of Inquirer, Daily News, Philly.com
Big changes could be coming to the Philadelphia Media Network.
The company runs the Inquirer, Daily News, and Philly.com, and for now, runs them using three separate newsrooms, perpetuating (in the case of the newspapers) a journalistic rivalry that has lasted for decades even while the papers were under common ownership. But Terry Egger — named this week as the new publisher at PMN — says that arrangement will probably come under scrutiny on his watch.
“Can we afford some of the inefficiencies that are inherent in having three entirely separate newsrooms?” Egger said Thursday afternoon during an interview with Philly Mag. He was in town for two days of meetings prior to officially taking the reins October 1st.
That doesn’t mean the Daily News — perpetually thought to be on the chopping block when new leadership arrives — is going to disappear: Egger said that for the “foreseeable future” the three main brands, which serve different niches, will continue to exist. It could be, however, that a consolidated newsroom gathers and distributes information to all three outlets. “It’s not a matter of the product, but how it gets put together,” Egger said when asked about the tabloid’s future.
No big decisions have been made, however, and Egger repeatedly emphasized that he was still getting his feet wet. “There’s a high, high learning curve for me in the Philadelphia market,” he said. “I don’t want to get ahead of myself.”
Still, several themes emerged during Thursday’s 15-minute phone interview:
• He’s a big Gerry Lenfest fan. Egger had actually retired from journalism several years back after a stint as publisher of the Cleveland Plain Dealer. Lenfest, who has been sole owner of the papers for little more than a year, coaxed Egger back into journalism — originally as a member of PMN’s new board.
“I’ve been around a long time, and I’ve never met anybody like him … somebody committed to keeping a strong journalistic voice alive in the city he loves,” Egger said of his new boss. “I felt it was too good an opportunity not to be a part of.”
The opportunity? To help stabilize the organization, and “from there to experiment and evolve.”
• The organization has to make money. But it doesn’t have to make big profits. “To be viable as an entity you have to have profit,” he said. “You can’t have more money going out than coming in. But that doesn’t mean you can’t do good work on a lower-cost basis.”
Egger presided over several rounds of staff cuts in Cleveland — similar to the staff reductions that have occurred over the last decade in Philly and at newspapers all around the country. But he said Philly newspapers, under their current ownership, may have an advantage other big regional papers don’t possess.
“You don’t come to the decisions you have to make about cost reductions easily,” he said. “But in this case, we’re not trying to pay down huge profits from some Wall Street entity or pay down debts from some hedge fund. … We’re trying to make one more dollar than we have going out. That’s a very doable thing.”
• Printed papers and home delivery will continue. For now. But the future is digital. Advance Publications, which owned the Plain Dealer, has reduced its commitment to print in recent years: In New Orleans, the Times-Picayune is printed only three days a week. In Cleveland, the paper is printed every day, but home delivery is available only a few days a week.
Those efforts aren’t likely to be duplicated soon in Philly, Egger said. The revenue from the paper and delivery is “strong” and “critical” right now, he said. But the future is still headed toward the digital side of the business. “We need to look at ways to improve Philly.com and improve our mobile offerings,” he said.
The entire newspaper industry has faltered in the 21st century, but the Philly papers have had it particularly rough — in just a few years, ownership has changed hands from Knight Ridder to (briefly) McClatchy to Brian Tierney to a hedge fund to a group led by George Norcross and finally to Lenfest. That has, as PMN’s internal critics have pointed out, prevented the papers and Philly.com from receiving consistent leadership when it was needed most.
“I have a great deal of empathy for what everybody here has been through. It’s very tumultuous,” Egger said. Going forward there will be “a focus on candor, respect, and working hard to figure out how to work everything out.”
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