Newspapers’ staffs deal with anxiety mixed with deja vu

Could Philadelphia become the first major metropolitan area where residents can’t pick up a physical, printed newspaper?

That could happen if a local media giant falls.  Employees of the Inquirer and Daily News, say the parent company, Interstate General Media, is threatening to sell or liquidate the company if cost-saving labor agreements are not in place by next Friday.

Threats of lay-offs and drastic changes are nothing new for journalists at the Philadelphia Inquirer and Daily News.   And everyone you talk to says the warning from management might just be a negotiating tactic.  Still …. Joe DiStefano writes a business column for the Inquirer and for philly.com.  He says he loves working there, but life at a newspaper requires a firm sense of perspective.

“Soon after I joined the paper in ’88 there were a round of buyouts,” he says.  “We had four sales over a period of five years at the paper and we continued publishing right on through that.” 

DiStefano says he sees the most recent events as the just the latest twist in that long history. DiStefano is in the interesting position of writing a business column while his employer’s status is one of the biggest local business stories going.

“I covered the sale of the paper a couple of times,” he said, “and people make a lot of statement and claims of things they want to do and things they wish to do and a lot of the would be owners said some interesting things over the years that were really part of their negotiating positions.” Reporter George Anastasia, famous for his coverage of the Philadelphia mob, left the Inquirer in October — taking a buyout after 38 years.

 Asked how his former colleagues feel, he says it’s hard to even describe them as worried. 

“They’re beyond being worried,” he said. “It’s just been three or four years of this constant bickering back and forth, back and forth.  I talked to someone the other day who said what we’d like to some to stand up and say: ‘Here’s where we’re going and here’s how we’re going to get there.  Here’s what the vision of the future is for this place.'” Anastasia says this is not the way to run a business — especially a journalism business:  “It’s not like running an insurance agency where you take a salesman here and put another salesman there and it’s all the same business.  Newspapers aren’t like that – not a good newspaper.” Inquirer-alum Rick Edmonds is the media business analyst at the Poynter Institute.  He doubts the papers will really close.  But the threat is not as outlandish as it might have seemed just a few years ago.

“There’s no big metropolitan area that doesn’t have a newspaper still,” he said. “On the other hand, as difficult as the financial situation has been for several successive ownerships in Philadelphia, if there was going to be a first, I guess Philadelphia conceiveably could be it.”

While no major city has lost all its papers, Advance Publications, part of the Newhouse media empire, in hte last year has cut publication to three days a week at its papers in Harrisburg, New Orleans, Syracuse, Birmingham, Ala., and Mobile, Ala. A spokesman for Interstate General Media declined to comment for this story.

 

 

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