By Howard Kurtz
Washington Post Staff Writer
Monday, February 23, 2009
When Brian Tierney bought the Philadelphia Inquirer and Daily News in 2006, he boasted that he would improve the newspapers through smart management and an intense focus on local news.
"We don't need a Jerusalem bureau," he said. "What we need are more people in the South Jersey bureau."
It didn't work. The group that bought the papers for $562 million, led by Tierney, an advertising and public relations executive, filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection yesterday.
Tierney said in a statement that the filing would not interrupt the daily operation of the newspapers. They now join Tribune Co., publisher of the Chicago Tribune, Los Angeles Times and Baltimore Sun, in bankruptcy court, along with the Minneapolis Star Tribune and the Journal Register Co., whose papers include the New Haven Register in Connecticut.
Tierney hired a respected veteran, William Marimow, as the Inquirer's editor, but several rounds of layoffs and cutbacks, as well as the closing of foreign bureaus and the elimination of several national beats, have curtailed its coverage and devastated morale. Reporters at the paper say Tierney retreated from the Inquirer's broad ambitions and, with each additional round of job cuts, badly damaged local coverage as well.
With advertising revenue down across the industry, Tierney had been negotiating with his lenders for 11 months before yesterday's filing.
Tierney's group bought the Inquirer and Daily News from McClatchy Newspapers, which sold several properties after buying the Knight Ridder chain.
"The next great era of Philadelphia journalism begins today," he declared then.
Tierney was hailed as one of a new breed of locally based private owners who would be free from the short-term profit mentality of public companies that had to please Wall Street. But the next great era never arrived.
Tierney told the papers' unions last year that his company was facing a "dire situation" and needed to cut costs by 10 percent to meet its debt obligations.
Many Philadelphia journalists viewed Tierney as an unlikely savior because he frequently clashed with the Inquirer in his role as a PR man. In one case, when he represented the Archdiocese of Philadelphia in 1998, he tried to freeze out a reporter he deemed too critical of the Catholic Church.
In its heyday, the Inquirer had 15 foreign and domestic bureaus, and it won 17 Pulitzer Prizes from the 1970s through the early 1990s.