Sale of papers not affected by tragedy

Posted: June 03, 2014

YESTERDAY morning, the Philadelphia region woke up to a Sunday Inquirer op-ed piece co-written by Lewis Katz, the new majority co-owner of the Daily News, the Inquirer and Philly.com, promising "a new level of ambition and journalism excellence."

But by the time the piece headlined "New era in journalism" landed on hundreds of thousands of front porches, Katz was already gone - killed in a private-jet crash Saturday night in Massachusetts that also claimed six other lives.

Amid the shock and sorrow over the loss of one of the Philadelphia area's top business leaders and philanthropists, two questions loomed large for the newspapers and their popular website:

Would the sudden and unexpected death of the 72-year-old Katz have any impact on Tuesday's $88 million sale of the news organizations in an auction aimed at ending the lengthy ownership dispute that had pitted Katz and his ally H.F. "Gerry" Lenfest against the then-majority owners led by George Norcross?

And, perhaps more important, what impact would the loss of Katz have on efforts to stabilize the Philadelphia newsrooms, which (like counterparts in other cities) have struggled with declining revenue and print circulation and have been sold a staggering six times since 2006?

On the first question, the key players were quick to offer reassurances that the sale - now pegged for a June 11 official closing - will not be affected in a substantive way. They said that Katz's estate will be responsible for his half of the $88 million deal and that his son Drew, 42, head of a billboard company and also a philanthropist, will move into the key ownership role that his dad had been expected to fill in the still-unnamed company.

"What I've heard is that he intends to carry out the same vision that his father had set out," Jay Devine, the spokesman for the new owners, said last night.

In a statement yesterday, Drew Katz called his father "my best friend" who "taught me everything" and added of his father and of his mother, Marjorie Katz, who died recently: "We will miss both of them tremendously but will work to carry on the enormous legacy that they both created."

It's long been reported that Lewis Katz had been grooming his son to eventually take over his various ventures, including possibly his role with the newspapers.

Drew Katz, the CEO of Cherry Hill-based Interstate Outdoor Advertising, a billboard company, had already been a director since the 2010 sale and told reporters after Tuesday's auction that he hopes his expertise in advertising can help the papers. He said he hadn't expected to be involved in the news business "but I didn't know anything about outdoor advertising, and figured it out."

Now, Drew Katz and Lenfest will have to figure out a lot in the coming months. Other than voicing support for once-embattled Inquirer editor Bill Marimow, Lewis Katz and Lenfest had left other thorny questions - including the long-term future of the Daily News and the hard paywall that makes it difficult to access some Daily News and Inquirer content - up in the air.

The Inquirer announced yesterday that the new owners had restored a second page of op-ed content that had been dropped in the Norcross era, while Philly.com also promoted an Inquirer editorial on its home page, which rarely happened during that period.

But Lewis Katz may have planted one other seed for the future when he chose a name for his son 42 years ago. Drew Katz is named for Drew Pearson, the take-no-prisoners muckraking D.C. investigative reporter with whom Lewis Katz had taken his first job after graduating from Temple in the 1960s.


On Twitter: @Will_Bunch

Blog: ph.ly/Attytood.com

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