Six years after local investors purchased the Philadelphia Inquirer and Daily News for more than $500 million and vowed a turnaround, the beleaguered papers were sold for $55 million yesterday.
A group of local businessmen led by former New Jersey Nets owner Lewis Katz and Cooper Health System chair George Norcross III will take over Philadelphia Media Network, the parent company of the papers and philly.com, from a collection of hedge funds. The group said it will retain publisher and CEO Greg Osberg and that no additional layoffs are expected.
"We believe that we can, with the various constituencies involved, make this a success," Norcross said.
Media experts across the country said the sale was a bargain, but that investors will have a hard time reversing years of red ink and declining revenues.
"I certainly wouldn't put up $55 million to buy the organization today," said Temple associate professor Chris Harper. "The Philadelphia newspapers talk about the high quality of journalism done by the news organization, but in recent months they've laid off dozens of reporters. They forced one reporter to remove a story about the sale, so there's been censorship. ... I don't think it's a well-run ship and hasn't been for some time."
Poynter Institute media analyst Rick Edmonds said digital news platforms have shaken the industry's foundations.
"The figures sort of speak for themselves that values have come way down and actually the market for acquisitions has improved some in the last nine months, maybe because the market is so [soft]," he said.
"This is America. Everybody is entitled to write what they feel is appropriate," managing partner Lewis Katz said.
"Everything we do is going to have to be as transparent as possible," Norcross later added.
But Temple associate professor Chris Harper, who worked 20 years as a reporter, said he is skeptical management can remain hands off.
"I don't see how they can possibly stay out of the editorial product and make things work," he said.