Months Of Tumult Leave Philly's Biggest Papers On The Auction Block
ROBERT SIEGEL, HOST:
Philadelphia's two largest newspapers were sold today for the fifth time in the last eight years. This ends a long-standing stalemate between the company's former owners. Holly Otterbein, of member station WHYY reports that newspaper analysts believe the sale will put the Philadelphia Inquirer and Daily News in a better position.
HOLLY OTTERBEIN, BYLINE: Businessman Lewis Katz and philanthropist Gerry Lenfest made the winning bid of $88 million. Katz says he hopes the size of the Philadelphia Inquirer and its coverage will grow.
LEWIS KATZ: It would hopefully be expanded, so that local news was more than adequately covered. Hopefully it'll get fatter.
OTTERBEIN: Lenfest and Katz outbid George Norcross, a powerful figure in New Jersey's Democratic Party. Katz and Norcross bought the newspaper company in 2012 for $55 million, but disagreed over management issues. That's why the owners were back and bidding for each other's shares in today's auction. The last two years have also been defined by acrimony between the owners and employees. Bill Ross is the executive director of the newspaper company's largest union.
BILL ROSS: It's been hell for all our members. Again, to see legal fees and money spent, when we're fighting over profit sharing that these owners bargained with us over is very upsetting.
OTTERBEIN: On top of that, there have been several rounds of layoffs and concessions in recent years, at the Inquirer, Daily News and their sister website, philly.com. There is fear in the newsrooms that more may be coming.
ROSS: They better not come looking for concessions from our union. We've done enough to help him, and will continue to help, but we're done giving and we want to rebuild this company and get back to what it should be.
OTTERBEIN: The new owners would not reveal whether they are considering layoffs or buyouts. Whether they'll have to resort to that will depend on reversing the decline in advertising revenues. Alan Mutter is a newspaper consultant.
ALAN MUTTER: In the industry of print circulation and advertising revenues have fallen by more than half in the last decade. And there's no indication that that trend is about to reverse because younger people tend to acquire news and information and shop digitally as opposed to in print.
OTTERBEIN: He says that growing ad revenues will be an uphill battle, but at least the owners are no longer fighting.
MUTTER: With management focused and coordinated working together, I would think that they have a better chance of achieving their goals.
OTTERBEIN: Lenfest says his plan for boosting ad revenue is improving the Philadelphia Inquirer.
GERRY LENFEST: If we have a better product, we give the support the staff needs to have a better product and we increase readership - that would be the basis for improvement and advertising.
OTTERBEIN: He is also looking to enhance the company's digital product, philly.com. For NPR News, I'm Holly Otterbein in Philadelphia.
SIEGEL: You can follow us on twitter. I'm Robert Siegel @RSiegel47.
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