Here’s something: A grueling and brutal legal battle among the owners of the Philadelphia Inquirer and other media properties is now over. As reported by the Inquirer itself, co-owners Lewis Katz and H.F. “Gerry” Lenfest today prevailed in an auction against a rival faction of owners headed by New Jersey Democratic powerhouse George Norcross. The winning side paid $88 million — a number that includes $15 million in debt — for all the shares of Interstate General Media Holdings LLC, whose holdings include the Inquirer, the Philadelphia Daily News, Web properties and a printing facility.
In April 2012, the now-dissolved ownership group paid $55 million for the bundle.
The two sides of the ownership group burst into open conflict last October, after the Inquirer’s publisher, Robert Hall, fired top editor Bill Marimow for a number of alleged offenses. That move split the group, with Katz and Lenfest protesting that Hall lacked the authority to fire Marimow and Norcross’s group insisting that it was fair ball. A judge later reinstated Marimow, but the legal proceedings wore on. Last month, a judge ordered the auction and the dissolution of the ownership group.
The entertaining part of the ownership spat was its two-way PR war. Each side accused the other of violating their management agreement by intervening in the editorial operations of IGM’s properties: Norcross allegedly routed his vision for newsroom changes at the Inquirer — including shrinkage in opinion coverage — directly to Marimow after the company had commissioned a detailed reader survey. Lenfest opposed such a plan, and at one point, Norcross objected to Lenfest’s objection, citing the editorial non-interference pact.
The Norcross faction issued this statement about today’s events: “Although we declined to submit a higher bid and will not purchase the shares of Interstate General Media owned by Messers. Katz and Lenfest, we are happy for the company’s employees, readers and advertisers that this issue is now resolved. It is time to return the company’s focus to journalism, and away from conflict among its owners.”
Speaking of conflicts, the move spares the Inquirer and the Daily News a passel of conflicts of interest in writing about Norcross, who is not only a force in New Jersey politics but also is chairman of the board of trustees of the Cooper Health System and Cooper University Hospital in Camden, N.J., and a prominent insurance industry executive.
Reached by the Erik Wemple Blog today, Marimow said, “I’m gratified that Lewis Katz and Gerry Lenfest own the company.”
Does that mean Marimow will be staying on board? “I hope so…I think there’s a lot of hard work to be done with those two owning the company,” said Marimow, adding that he’s looking forward a a virtuous cycle in which good journalism produces profits that can get plowed back into journalism.
On the plowing front, Inquirer watchers will have their eyes on the opinion section of the paper, which was reduced in size while Marimow was running the paper under the former ownership group. He declined to say whether the cuts to the section would be restored.