Rendell: PMN investors would consider newsroom ‘fire wall’

Posted: February 20, 2012

Former Pennsylvania Gov. Ed Rendell said that the investor group he organized to buy Philadelphia Media Network Inc. (PMN) would consider establishing a "fire wall" to limit interference with its newsrooms.

Rendell made the comments to former Inquirer reporter Buzz Bissinger on WPHT-AM Monday.

During the interview, Rendell reiterated that he's not putting up any money to buy the parent company of The Inquirer, Philadelphia Daily News and Philly.com. "I don't have any money," he said.

Besides Rendell, the prospective buyers include businessman Lewis Katz; Comcast Spectacor L.P. chairman and Philadelphia Flyers founder Edward M. Snider; insurance executive and South Jersey Democratic leader George E. Norcross III; William P. Hankowsky, chief executive of Liberty Property Trust; and Krishna "Kris" Singh, CEO of Holtec International Inc.

Rendell had a reply for critics concerned about prominent businesspeople and forceful politicians owning the region's largest newspapers and website.

"You act as if this is the first time" powerful people with an "ideological bent" have owned newspapers, said Rendell, naming as examples former Inquirer publisher Walter Annenberg and News Corp. founder Rupert Murdoch.

Asked about the likelihood that articles about his investors or their interests "might get killed," Rendell said his group would "do something to assure the reportorial staff" that such interference would not happen. That could take "some form of pledge" or "outside review board" made up of academics or former newspaper people.

What would happen if an article were critical of Flyers management? "Ed Snider would have to grit his teeth" and simply accept it, Rendell said.

"Nobody wants to stifle news," said Rendell, who referred to recent incidents of that happening at the company. "No one in our group knew anything about it. Nor would we stand for it."

Last week, journalists from the three newsrooms issued a statement insisting that current and future owners must guarantee the integrity of news reporting.

Rendell said that there is no certainty that his group will be successful in its effort to acquire PMN from its current owners, led by two New York hedge funds, Alden Global Capital and Angelo, Gordon & Co. There is at least one other bidder involved in the sale, which Evercore Partners Inc. is managing.

As for what role Rendell would take should his group acquire PMN, the former mayor of Philadelphia said he'd be chairman of the board. "The last thing I want to be is publisher," he said.

He also said that he didn't anticipate "huge changes" in the newsroom staff should a sale be completed. "I didn't sign on to be Bain Capital," he said, referring to the private-equity firm for which Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney once worked.


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

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