Philly’s struggling media giant finds owners, if not direction

    So what happens now?

    Most of the journalists I know from the Philadelphia Inquirer and Daily News think the right side won in the epic fight for control of the company that owns both papers and Philly.com.

     

    They viewed George Norcross, whose faction lost its share of the company in a court-ordered auction Tuesday, as an aggressive owner more likely to follow a political or personal agenda. And many were horrified by the direction of Philly.com under Lexi Norcross, George’s daughter, and Las Vegas-based consultant Robert Cauthorn.

    It’s better for everybody that the company can decide on a strategy and management team and start moving together. As victorious owner Lewis Katz said in a news conference after the auction, “this public conflaggeration wasn’t good for anybody.”

    But, again, what now?

    It was striking to hear how little Katz and his co-owner, philanthropist H.F. “Gerry” Lenfest, had to say about where the company will go now. They offered nothing on digital strategy. They couldn’t commit to maintaining current employment levels, or promise they wouldn’t ask the workforce for givebacks, or say they wouldn’t close the Daily News.

    They were just being honest, of course. They aren’t newspaper publishers. They said they’d hire the best they could find and take it from there. Fair enough. But it became apparent over the past six months of litigation that Norcross was deeply engaged in the company and had his own goals for the papers and Philly.com. It seems the agenda of Katz and Lenfest was mostly to resist Norcross’s moves. Now they have to make their own.

    Bill Marimow, the Pulitzer Prize-winning editor of the Inquirer, will keep his job and be a champion of hard-hitting local investigative reporting. And, while Katz and Lenfest didn’t say so, it’s apparent Lexi Norcross and Cauthorn will be history.

    But whether these two aging owners can come up with a business plan to reverse the decline of this media company remains an open question. As Katz told reporters yesterday, “It’s going to take a lot of hard work, guys. We’re not kidding ourselves. We bought ourselves an enormous undertaking.”

    Amen. Good luck with that.  

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