Norcross gets majority stake in Inquirer

    It doesn’t mean he gets his way, but South Jersey businessman and Democratic powerhouse George Norcross has bought out one of the co-owners of the company that owns the Philadelphia Inquirer, Daily News and Philly.com, giving him about 52 percent of the shares of the company.

    Norcross announced Monday that his firm, General American Holdings, bought the shares of Krishna Singh, one of six investors who bought Interstate General Media last year.

    The move doesn’t appear to have any immediate impact on Norcross’ ongoing legal fight with co-owners Lewis Katz and H.F. “Gerry” Lenfest over the selection of the editor-in-chief of the Inquirer. Bill Marimow was fired in early October with the support of the Norcross faction, then rehired last month after Philadelphia Common Pleas Judge Patricia McInerney ruled that, under the partners’ agreement, Marimow’s firing required the approval of Katz and Norcross.

    For weeks, Norcross has spoken for a group of four owners that owns 58 percent of the company. Norcross’ buyout of Singh yesterday leaves that percentage unchanged, but gives Norcross himself most of the stake within it.

    The purchase does signal Norcross’ determination to stay in the fight with Katz and Lenfest and prevail.

    Catching up: Marimow still in place

    After McInerney ruled that Marimow had to be returned to his job, the Norcross side appealed and asked the state Superior Court for an expedited review of the matter. Last Friday the court denied the request for an expedited appeal, but indicated it would hear the case.

    It’s not clear how long it might take for the courts to rule on Marimow’s firing, but his contract lasts only through next April. Whether he could remain in the job after that is unclear.

    In the meantime, the warring factions have offered their spin on the dispute and the health of the newspapers. The pro-Marimow side recommended a couple of online posts from former Inquirer editor Bob Frump here and here, that deal with the Marimow saga and the company’s online strategy, which is heavily influenced by Norcross’ daughter, Lexie.

    Norcross’ side liked this piece, by former Inquirer writer Ralph Cipriano, which says Katz has been meddling in the Inky newsroom.

    And it’s always worth checking out the work of Philly Mag’s Steve Volk, who has followed the case closely.

    Here’s the statement from Norcross on purchasing Singh’s stock:

    FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE:December 9, 2013

    Norcross-led firm purchases additional shares of Interstate General Media; becomes principal owner of parent company of Philadelphia Inquirer, Daily News and philly.com

    PHILADELPHIA: Today, George E. Norcross, III, announced that the firm he leads, General American Holdings, has purchased Kris Singh’s shares in Interstate General Media (IGM), making General American the principal owner of the parent company of the Philadelphia Inquirer, the Daily News, and philly.com. General American will own 53 percent of IGM, keeping the portion of the company owned by General American, Bill Hankowsky and Joe Buckelew steady at 58 percent. The terms of the purchase are not being released.

    The purchase of the shares by General American demonstrates the ongoing commitment of Messrs. Norcross, Hankowsky and Buckelew’s to the long-term health and vitality of IGM, which has made a significant turnaround in the 20 months since the papers and philly.com were purchased. After years of poor management that led to bankruptcy, layoffs and jeopardized pensions, the company has gone from losing almost $50,000 a day to being on the path to profitability. Since its purchase, IGM has made millions of dollars of investments in its long-term future, including for improvements at the production plant, the 801 Market Street headquarters and IT across the company. The company has also dramatically improved operations, including a focus on improvements to home delivery and a rebuilding of the advertising program. These investments and improvements are already yielding results. In just the last few weeks, both papers have announced that, for the first time in years, new subscriber starts are outpacing cancellations — at the beginning of the year, the Inquirer’s losses in print exceeded new starts by more than one thousand subscribers weekly. 105,000 of the papers’ 270,000 daily subscribers have enrolled to receive a daily replica version, a huge enrollment percentage in just one year.

    Going forward, it is the hope and expectation of Messrs. Norcross, Hankowsky and Buckelew that the company will continue to improve its operations, including expanded local news coverage as readers desire, hiring additional reporters for the first time in years, supporting a comprehensive digital strategy as the media industry continues to evolve, making more capital investments in the fleet and capital production processes and building on its home delivery improvements so that every paper is delivered on time, every day.

    Want a digest of WHYY’s programs, events & stories? Sign up for our weekly newsletter.

    It will take 126,000 members this year for great news and programs to thrive. Help us get to 100% of the goal.