There’s a potential buyer for the embattled Philly.com, the Philadelphia Inquirer and the Philadelphia Daily News, according to a report out yesterday from Philly.com.
“The Newspaper Guild of Greater Philadelphia declined to reveal the potential buyer, but said the party is interested in purchasing the entire company or a majority stake from parent company Interstate General Media, whose owners include wealthy New Jersey businessman Lewis Katz and powerful South Jersey Democrat George Norcross,” the reports reads.
The news follow a suit and countersuit filed by Katz and Norcross and a tangle of other developments, including the firing of editor Bill Marimow. And it comes as the papers appear to be on the edge of profitability again. Yesterday, Joel Mathis wrote in Philadelphia Magazine that rumors of profitability had been brewing for a while, but “confirmation of a sorts emerged Tuesday, as part of an explanation from Bill Ross, executive director of the Newspaper Guild, as to why the guild had publicized its bid to buy out one or all of IGM’s warring owners.”
“‘They’re just about to turn the corner and become profitable,’ Ross said of the newspapers. Guild members had already negotiated a profit-sharing program to begin in 2014, he said, and don’t want to see that money that could go to journalists instead spent on lawyer’s fees in the ownership battle. ‘We’d like to have this dispute settled.’
Profitability, if it occurs, would be a stunning development for a newspaper group that has been through multiple ownership changes and steady layoffs over the last decade, even entering a bankruptcy in 2009 that temporarily placed ownership of Philadelphia’s newspapers in the hands of a New York-based hedge fund, which in turn sold the operation to the current, rich-but-contrary group of local owners. Ross said that in order to help the papers right their finances, the company’s 11 unions together made $28 million in givebacks, with $6 million coming from guild members.”
This offer comes after Norcross publicly offered $29 million to buy out Katz and another co-owner, according to a piece yesterday by Dave Davies in NewsWorks, the online site for WHYY News in Philadelphia. “Katz summarily rejected the notion in a brief telephone interview, but indicated he’d be open to an idea proposed by the Newspaper Guild that the warring sides bring in an ‘impartial industry expert’ to run Interstate General Media, the company that owns the Inquirer, Daily News, and Philly.com,” Davies reports.
Also yesterday, Erik Wemple wrote in The Washington Post about what may be behind the legal tug of war in Philly:
“A source close to Marimow insists that pressure from Norcross descended around the time that the research from Greenberg Quinlan Rosner started making the rounds. Norcross was animated by the data, says the source, and was clearly involved in its ‘inception.’ Though the focus groups yielded lots of information on the audience of the Inquirer, Norcross appeared particularly interested in its implications for two aspects of the Inquirer: Its columnists and its editorials.”
After that, Marimow started cutting opinion and editorials from the paper, Wemple reports.
“The source close to Marimow tells us that the editor carried out the opinion-page reduction because he was being pressured on various fronts, including a directive to fire various newsroom employees. Moving from two opinion pages to one, says the source, was Marimow’s way of appeasing Norcross and Hall.
If you believe Marimow’s version of events, then Norcross is a genius. Here’s how: The Marimow camp contends that it was Norcross’s meddling ways that pushed him to downsize the paper’s editorial and opinion coverage. After news of the plans surfaced, some voices raised objections, including ownership partner and philanthropist (H.F. “Gerry”) Lenfest. On Sept. 5, Lenfest sent an e-mail saying, ‘Based on all the appeals received and my strong belief, do not reduce the number of Op-Ed pages in the Inquirer.’ To that notion, Norcross responded, in part: ‘As we all pledged from the beginning and should continue, I suggest we refrain from involving ourselves in Editorial decisions/staff matters.’”
Correction: A previous version of this story included a wrong spelling for Erik Wemple’s name.