The parent company of the Philadelphia Inquirer and Daily News was sold on Tuesday. Sort of…
By Denise Clay
You wanna know who’s probably blasting Pharrell’s world-wide hit “Happy” as he dances around his office right about now?
William Marimow, editor of The Philadelphia Inquirer.
Marimow is perhaps the happiest man in the Philadelphia media universe right now because H.F. “Gerry” Lenfest and Lewis Katz were the winners of the private auction held on Tuesday to sell the Philadelphia Inquirer and Daily News.
We’ll revisit that point in a moment.
Lenfest and Katz put in the winning bid for the two papers, a bid of $88 million. Granted, they won because they were the only ones who bid, but a win is a win.
The other investor group that had previously helped buy the newspapers, a group led by New Jersey powerbroker George Norcross III, Joseph Buckelew and William Hankowsky, declined to put in a bid this week. But since that group helped come up with the $55 million that was used to purchase the papers in 2012, they probably consider the $33 million in profit they got from Tuesday’s sale a win as well.
But the fact that the papers have kinda new ownership, the fifth set of owners it has had in eight years, brings us back to Marimow.
In October 2013, Robert Hall, the publisher of both newspapers, fired Marimow, citing ‘philosophical differences.’
To be specific, Marimow disobeyed several direct orders to make changes to the paper’s design, fire editors and do other things that Hall, his boss, asked him to do.
In other words, he was kind of committed to doing his own thing, even if it no longer worked in the current media climate.
“Marimow is not and never will be the change agent that we need at the Inquirer to turn around the circulation decline and grow our company,” Hall said in a staff email reprinted in Philadelphia Magazine.
For a chunk of the owner’s group, the chunk led by Norcross, Hall’s decision to fire Marrimow was fine with them.
But the Katz and Lenfest faction cried foul and accused Norcross and company of meddling in editorial affairs, which was something the power-brokers promised they would not do back in 2012.
When Katz and Lenfest took the matter to court and Judge Patricia McInerney ruled that Marimow be reinstated immediately, it was the beginning of the end for the partnership.
With Marimow’s champions now owning the whole shebang, the editor’s future at the Inky looks secure.
But my guess is that Hall is in his office right now, boxing up a few things and getting ready for the pink slip that’s sure to come… If he hasn’t already written his letter of resignation.
Now let’s get back to that other point I wanted to elaborate a bit on, the point about the newspapers having a fifth set of owners in eight years.
When any business has this many owners in this short of time, there’s a lot of questions and this is no exception. My friend John Featherman is a contributor to Philly.com, and because the editor of that section is Norcross’s daughter Alessandra, she may be gone soon as well.
And then there’s the Daily News.
Whenever I walk into the Daily News newsroom, I feel a little sad. That’s because this newsroom, the newsroom that puts out the paper that I actually read, is so empty that if you threw a rock across the room, you probably wouldn’t hit anybody.
Every time that this set of newspapers hits the auction block, the Daily News, the newspaper that doesn’t view covering the city as an afterthought, becomes more and more fragile. So much emphasis, and money, is placed on its more suburb-friendly sister that its importance gets lost.
The fact that, in its “Tainted Justice” series, the Daily News exposed a bunch of police officers as so corrupt that they had no right to wear the badge, which won the newspaper a Pulitzer Prize, gets lost.
A ticket fixing scandal that’s led to a whole bunch of local judges learning what it means to be on the other side of the bench in Federal Court gets lost.
And the fact that a city — that recently re-elected a pretty sizable group of politicians with legal clouds over their heads and came close to re-electing a state senator under indictment — needing a watchdog like the Daily News, gets lost.
So it’ll be interesting to see if the sorta new owners see the paper’s value… Or if the rumors of the paper’s demise will wind up being true this time.
In any case, don’t be surprised if you see Bill Marimow in one of Pharrell’s unique hats.
‘Cause for right now at least, nothing can bring him down… Not even the folks who sign his checks.
Contributor Denise Clay has been a journalist for 20 years. She is a columnist for the Philadelphia Public Record and also works as a copy editor/proofreader/columnist for the Philadelphia Sunday Sun, a black-owned weekly based in Philadelphia. She blogs at The Mad (Political) Scientist.