OUT & ABOUT: In Again, Out Again, In Again At The Inquirer

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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 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.

Again.

WHY IS this man smiling?

WHY IS this man smiling?

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 helped by the papers, a group led by New Jersey powerbroker George Norcross III, Joseph Buckelew and William Hankowski, declined to put in a bid. 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 the papers have kinda-new ownership, the eighth set of owners it’s had in eight years, brings us back to Marimow.

In October 2013, Robert Hall, the publisher of both newspapers and a man who is probably not feeling like a room without a roof right about now, 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 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 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 group of powerbrokers promised it wouldn’t do back in 2012.

When Katz and Lenfest took the matter to court and the Judge Patricia McInerney ruled that Marimow be reinstated immediately, it was the beginning of the end for the ownership group.

With the two men who championed Marimow owning the whole shebang, the editor’s future at the Inky looks secure. But my guess is 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’ churning ownership.

When any business has that many owners in that short of a 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, there could be some changes there.

And then there’s the Daily News. Whenever I walk into that newsroom, I feel a little sad. That’s because this newsroom, the newsroom that puts out the paper I actually read, is so empty that if you threw a rock across the room, you probably wouldn’t hit anyone.

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 a bunch of police officers were exposed as so corrupt that they had no right to wear the badge through the newspaper’s Pulitzer Prize-winning “Tainted Justice” series 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 a city that reelected a pretty sizable group of politicians with legal clouds over their heads and came really close to reelecting a State Senator under indictment needs a watchdog like the Daily News.

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.

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One Response to OUT & ABOUT: In Again, Out Again, In Again At The Inquirer

  1. At least Norcross is gone. The toxic cancer is gone. The investor used Norcross to get their money. They know Norcross is damaged goods and anyone attached to him or his brother
    Is a financial risk and a FBI investigation. If they’re smart, they will leave the Norcross boys and his friend Sen. Sweeney alone before they get dragged into these federal investigations

    Russell
    May 30, 2014 at 12:47 pm

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