It’s “envelopes, please” for the fate of Philadelphia’s two daily papers and their website. Bidders for the bankrupt Philadelphia Media Holdings have to submit their offers by 5 o’clock PM today. The year-long struggle over who will control the city’s major news outlets has pitted the current management team against a group of lenders. Whyy’s Susan Phillips takes a look at what is at stake for the papers.
It’s “envelopes, please” for the fate of Philadelphia’s two daily papers and their website. Bidders for the bankrupt Philadelphia Media Holdings have to submit their offers by 5:00 p.m. today. The year-long struggle over who will control the city’s major news outlets has pitted the current management team against a group of lenders. WHYY”s Susan Phillips takes a look at what is at stake for the papers.[audio:100422sppaper.mp3]
Newspaper reporters, readers and advocates are on the edge of their seats waiting to see who will end up owning the Philadelphia Inquirer, Daily News, and Philly.com and, whether both papers can survive the re-organization.
C.-E.O of Philadelphia Media Holdings Brian Tierney has launched a public relations campaign touting the benefits of local control. Tierney is hoping a group of local investors can purchase the papers, eliminate its debt and keep the current management in place.
Tierney: We’re fighting for something really important here. We’re fighting for 4500 jobs, about 4000 are union jobs. Great jobs. We’re also fighting for the integrity of the most important journalistic enterprise in the mid-Atlantic, the Philadelphia Inquirer and Daily News 400 reporters, Philly.com. There’s something here we’re fighting for and its an exhilarating battle.
Tierney says he is saving the papers from nefarious Wall Street hedge funds operators, who could end up closing the less profitable, but spunkier Daily News.
And the emotional appeal of the “People’s Paper” is significant.
Mann: My name is Albis Mann I’m from North Philadelphia. It’s not right man, it’s not right, it’s part of us. I’m from here, been here all my life. I’m 52 years old. It’s always been part of us, it’s like City Hall. It’s part of us.
There are several other potential bidders, including a group from Canada, and the Yukaipa Company led by billionaire Ron Burkle. And of course, the creditors at odds with Tierney, who are owed $320 million from the original financing of Philadelphia Media Holdings.
Fred Hodara, a New York attorney who represents that group. Hodara says Tierney is stoking fear.
Hodara: He’s a marketing expert and he’s used all his marketing resources to paint some evil picture of the people who he doesn’t want to lose to in this auction process. As for our lenders, if we’re lucky enough to win this auction there’s not intention to change how the Daily News operates.
Hodara doesn’t buy Tierney’s message that local control is better.
Columbia University President Lee Bollinger, who has written several books on the importance of a free press says local control does matter.
Bollinger: “Sometimes distant owners can be very respectful of local traditions and very respectful of editorial independance but I think in general that’s not the course and we need to make sure there’s a lot of local ownership.
To many readers, the disappearance of the Daily News, which just won a Pulitzer prize for a series on police corruption would be a terrible loss.
Joey Sweeney, editor and publisher of the website Philebrity, says the Daily News actually does a better job than the more staid Inquirer, when it comes to covering city politics.
“They cover the city in a more fun way and also a more brass tacks kind of way. For instance, I think that the Daily News’ Philly Clout Blog is probably one of the best in the city and certainly the best for a layman trying to understand what happens in Philly politics.”
And as the papers lose readership, several online sites have begun to produce original content.
Jan Shaffer is a former Inquirer reporter and editor of J-Lab, based at American University.
Shaffer says the papers continue to produce more news than any other outlet. But new websites have already begun to fill a gap in coverage.
Shaffer: In Phila in particular there are a lot of local websites that are producing a lot of original content. Things like Planphilly.com, Public School Notebook, PA 2010. There’s a ton of original content being generated throughout the city and its not just commenting on what’s in the Philadelphia Inquirer or the Daily News.
The opening bids will likely not be made public until Monday. The auction takes place next Tuesday in New York City.