George E. Norcross III is getting aggressive in the battle for the Philadelphia Inquirer. The southern New Jersey politico and insurance executive attempted today to woo the Newspaper Guild, Local-38010, which represents more than 500 employees across the properties of Interstate General Media: the Inquirer, the Philadelphia Daily News and Philly.com. Norcross and three other directors of Interstate General Media are fighting against a minority ownership faction consisting of magnate Lewis Katz, a former owner of the New Jersey Nets, and H.F. “Gerry” Lenfest, a former cable-system owner and prominent philanthropist. At issue is control of the properties and mutual allegations of newsroom meddling by owners.
In a statement on the Norcross meeting, the guild said that Norcross spent more than two hours explaining his “plans for the future of the company and urged the Guild to publicly support his campaign to get owners Lew Katz and Gerry Lenfest to sell their 42 percent minority ownership stake.” A “spirited debate” followed Norcross’s appeal but the executive board decided to maintain its neutrality in this split. “In this case, neutrality is a sign of leadership,” said the guild statement. “The Guild tried to broker peace between the warring parties, at their request, but was rebuffed. Now the situation seems headed to court as more money gets wasted on lawyers. It needs to end,” said the guild’s statement.
No statement in this dispute goes unanswered. Jay Devine, a spokesman for Katz and Lenfest, issued this one:
Mr. Katz and Mr. Lenfest never bought these newspapers for economic reasons. They believe in free and independent journalism that serves the public good. These latest, inappropriate lobbying and bullying efforts by Mr. Norcross are just one more example of his repeated attempts to interfere and not let journalists be journalists. We are pleased that the Guild continues to remain neutral despite this pressure. Once again, we reiterate our offer to execute a buy-sell agreement with a shotgun clause.
The two sides are locked in litigation that flared up over the Oct. 7 firing of top Inquirer editor Bill Marimow. Following the sacking, Lenfest and Katz sued for the editor’s reinstatement, and Norcross countersued, alleging meddling by Katz in the Inquirer’s editorial affairs. Allegations have surfaced, too, that Marimow’s fall from grace at the Inquirer follows meddling by Norcross.
Now for Norcross’s statement:
Mr. Norcross met with the Guild leadership today, as he has on numerous previous occasions. He spent over 2 hours discussing the plans for the company and answering questions. He has a plan for continuing the progress the company has made — they’ve gone from losing almost $50,000 a day to being on the path to profitability — and asked them to help him put an end to the litigation he neither sought nor wanted. The minority owners have yet to propose a plan or a path forward. Everyone understands that the litigation filed by Mr. Katz will cost the company hundreds of thousands, if not millions, of dollars that could be invested in the company itself. He is meeting with as many employees as possible in order to discuss what the company has done and where it is headed. Mr. Norcross believes that it is in the best interest of the company if everyone is focused on and committed to the future. That’s why he’d like the Guild’s support and the support of every IGM employee.