The paralyzing conflict between the principal owners of the Philadelphia Inquirer, Daily News and Philly.com was depressingly illuminated over four days of testimony in a city hall courtroom that ended Tuesday, with Judge Patricia McInerney retiring to decide whether she should order former Inquirer editor Bill Marimow restored to his job.
Depending on which side you believe, Marimow was fired either because he was dragging his feet on changes needed to improve the paper, or because he resisted the meddling of co-owner George Norcross, a New Jersey businessman and powerful Democrat.Another co-owner, Lewis Katz, sued after Marimow was fired because he says the agreement among investors who bought the paper last year was that he and Norcross had to agree on major decisions.No good news hereThere were plenty of journalists in the courtroom for the testimony, only about half of them working. Many were current and former Inquirer folks, watching with sad eyes and worn looks on their faces.The story many of us were waiting for wasn’t told in the hearing. We wanted to hear the principals testify under oath about whether and when any of them tried to screw with coverage for personal or political reasons.
There were hints of it here and there.
Publisher Bob Hall, a Norcross ally, was asked about disparaging a front-page investigative story about a State Supreme Court Justice. And Katz said he thought some people Marimow was ordered to fire were folks who had clashed with Norcross’s daughter, who’s an executive at Philly.com.But the hearing wasn’t about that, and the judge limited the testimony to the narrower issue of exactly who had the power to fire Marimow based on the written and oral agreements among the company owners.Which is why the seasoned Inquirer scribes in the room and many in the paper’s newsroom were increasingly bummed as the hearing progressed. It’s clear that the current owners can’t co-exist, that neither Katz nor Norcross are prepared to back down, that judge’s decision won’t untangle them, and that the organization will be pretty dysfunctional until that conflict is resolved.The company needs smart, committed journalists and a savvy business strategy to thrive in the digital age. And any executive willing to come and work in the current snake pit almost has to be regarded as unqualified simply for his or her willingness to do it.So whether Marimow comes back until his contract ends in April and the fight over its renewal begins, or whether he stays gone, the owners have to find a way to resolve their differences.Judge Judy, where are you?
This footnote: Tuesday was supposed to be the day that Norcross took the stand, but his lawyers thought better of it and rested their case without his testimony.