PMN employees call for protection of their reporting's integrity

Posted: February 17, 2012

Nearly 300 newsroom employees of Philadelphia Media Network Inc. signed a public statement Friday calling on the current and any future owners of the media company to protect the integrity of their reporting.

The statement, issued as a press release to local media late Friday, was signed by about 80 percent of the unionized and managerial-level newsroom employees of The Inquirer, Philadelphia Daily News and Philly.com.

The three-paragraph statement addresses both the ramifications of a possible change in ownership for Philadelphia Media Network (PMN) and employees' "dismay" over how coverage of the sale process had been "compromised and censored" by management.

"Our employers promise this won't happen again," the statement reads. "That must be the case."

Craig R. McCoy and Joseph Tanfani, members of The Inquirer's investigative-reporting team, e-mailed the statement Thursday to staffers in the newsrooms.

"As The Philadelphia Inquirer, Daily News and Philly.com have gone up for sale once again, we watched with dismay as our own coverage of the process was compromised and censored," the statement reads.

Greg Osberg, PMN chief executive officer and publisher, responded with his own statement, expressing support for the journalists' "clear message," but disagreeing that censorship had occurred.

"While we don't agree that censorship has taken place at PMN, we support our journalists in a unified pledge upholding the Bill of Rights," Osberg said in the statement.

Both statements referred to three incidents involving articles about the potential sale of the media properties.

First, a paragraph about the 2011 financial results of PMN was removed from the online version of a Feb. 4 Inquirer article about a group of local investors assembled by former Gov. Ed Rendell to potentially buy the company.

Next, an article by an Inquirer reporter about developer Bart Blatstein's organizing a rival investor group to buy PMN was not permitted to run in the Feb. 7 edition. (An updated version of the story was published Feb. 9) On Feb. 7, a blog post about the same topic that had been written by a Daily News reporter was removed from Philly.com.

Word of the actions ordered by PMN's top management quickly spread via social media, blogs, and journalism websites. It was the subject of both an article and a column in Thursday's New York Times.

PMN is owned by a group of hedge funds and financial investors that acquired the company in a bankruptcy auction in 2010. News of a possible sale of the media properties broke in late January.

In a Feb. 3 conference call, Rendell acknowledged he had organized a group of local investors to buy PMN. It includes Comcast-Spectacor chairman Edward N. Snider, New Jersey businessman Lewis Katz, and George E. Norcross III, insurance executive and New Jersey Democratic leader.

The prospect of new ownership that might include individuals influential in local politics and business has been the source of concern for many journalists in PMN's newsrooms, as well as fodder for debate among media pundits and ethicists.

The journalists' statement, written by McCoy and Tanfani, was intended to give voice to a staff that "was searching for some opportunity to speak out," McCoy said.

Tanfani said he was "extremely gratified" that so many employees across a broad spectrum of duties had signed on in such a short period of time.

On Friday, Osberg held his first meetings with editors from the three newsrooms to discuss the events of the last two weeks. He later issued his own statement about the message that had garnered widespread newsroom support.

"There is no city where a pledge to both protect and advance the First Amendment of the Bill of Rights is more important than in Philadelphia," Osberg wrote. "Philadelphia Media Network is honored to serve this city and region."


Contact Mike Armstrong at 215-854-2980 or marmstrong@phillynews.com, or @PhillyInc on Twitter.

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