More Chaos Brewing at Philly Inquirer, Daily News

By MaryClaire Dale
|  Wednesday, Oct 30, 2013  |  Updated 7:17 PM EDT
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Chaos Brewing at Philly Inquirer, Daily News

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Two investors have offered $29 million to buy out fellow co-owners of The Philadelphia Inquirer amid a bitter, expensive feud that staffers call ``a disgrace.''

Powerful New Jersey Democrat George Norcross and investor William P. Hankowsky made the offer Wednesday after squaring off in court this week with co-owners Lewis Katz and H.F. ``Gerry'' Lenfest. The fight was sparked by editor Bill Marimow's firing, but more broadly involves the company's future.

Writers, photographers and others fear the bickering will tank both the company and their careers.

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"We are at a stalemate, unable to move forward and wasting potentially millions of dollars on legal fees, when the company's unions, as recently as February, gave back more than $20 million in wages and benefits,'' local Newspaper Guild President Howard Gensler, a Daily News columnist, wrote in a memo Tuesday.

Staffers at the Inquirer, Philadelphia Daily News and Philly.com have worked for five owners in seven years, and, like much of the industry, endured pay cuts and layoffs. They now hope to help an unidentified party take over, and secure an ownership stake.

"We're just fed up with the situation, and it's become clear they can't work together, so either one side has to go or both sides have to go,'' Gensler wrote.

However, it's not clear that either ownership group wants to sell. The current owners include some of the region's wealthiest, and most powerful, business owners. Lenfest, a cable TV mogul and philanthropist, and Katz, who once owned the New Jersey Nets, put in $26 million for a 42 percent stake last year. They called Norcross's buyout offer a publicity stunt.

"We didn't get into this for economic purposes. We invested because of public service and our civic duty,'' they said. ``If the Norcross block is serious, they can have their attorneys contact our attorneys.''

Meanwhile, Publisher Bob Hall said Wednesday that his top deputy, Chief Operating Officer Michael Lorenca, resigned to take another job. And he confirmed reports that former publisher Brian Tierney, who led the paper from 2006 until a 2009 bankruptcy, has been paid $25,000 a month since May to sell advertising. Tierney was let go Tuesday for underperforming, Hall said. Tierney told the Inquirer he was ``collateral damage'' amid the infighting.

Norcross, Katz, Lenfest and three others chipped in $55 million to take over the company last year as New York hedge fund owners who bought the company at auction moved on. The company was losing almost $50,000 a day at the time, according to Norcross, an insurance executive.

"In 18 short months, we have reversed the direction of the company ... (and are) on the path to profitability today. That turnaround is due in large part to the hard work and sacrifices of the employees of the company, investments in our infrastructure and a dramatically improved home delivery revenue,'' Norcross said in a statement. "We have always been in this for the long haul.''
 

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