PMN's new owners meet the employees, discuss the future

Posted: April 04, 2012

In an informal session Tuesday with newspaper and website employees, three new owners of Philadelphia Media Network reiterated their plans to make long-term investments in the media company to improve its financial and journalistic prospects.

"You have to have a product that is best-in-class," said George E. Norcross III, an insurance and hospital executive who is a Democratic power broker in South Jersey. "You've got to invest to hire the best and the brightest.

"You've got to get out from under all this," Norcross said of the financial and employment pressures buffeting the company, which has had five owners in the last six years. "Right now, it's like being a Republican in New Jersey."

Norcross and five other local investors closed a deal on Monday to buy The Inquirer, the Philadelphia Daily News, and Philly.com for about $55 million. That was about 90 percent less than the $515 million paid for the company in 2006 by a previous local investment group. The new owners also have said they intend to invest up to $10 million more for working capital for operations.

Lewis Katz, a businessman and political fund-raiser who with Norcross will serve as a managing partner of Interstate General Media L.L.C., the new parent company, dismissed suggestions that the new owners would kill the Daily News, the smaller of the company's two newspapers, to save money.

"We are going to do everything humanly possible to make that come back to life and make it relevant and exciting and entertaining," Katz said.

Philanthropist H. F. "Gerry" Lenfest declined to discuss specifics as he greeted employees who gathered for a lunch of hoagies and sodas on the first floor of the landmark Inquirer building on North Broad Street that, after July, will no longer be home to the company. The media properties are moving to smaller quarters in the former Strawbridge and Clothier department store at Eighth and Market Streets.

"It's too early to tell ... we have to wait until we know the lay of the land," said Lenfest, who reminisced about his days in the Inquirer building in the 1960s, when he worked as an attorney for then-owner Walter H. Annenberg and as editorial director of Seventeen magazine.

A day earlier, Lenfest, who will serve as chairman of the board, had compared the new owners to the famously low-profile owners of the Philadelphia Phillies.

"The only thing you hear about is the manager of the team and not the investors, and I think the investors will depend on the management of the newspaper for the day-to-day operations and not take an active role in dealing with management."

The new owners have pledged not to interfere in news decisions or editorial policies of the news organization.

In early March, 300 of the company's journalists signed a public statement insisting that the new owners not shape news coverage to serve "private or political interests."

Contact Paul Nussbaum at 215-854-4587 or pnussbaum@phillynews.com

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