The city's biggest print-news outlets may struggle to find their way after the unexpected death of Lewis Katz, co-owner of the Inquirer, Daily News and Philly.com, who re-purchased the company from his former partners last week.
"This is going to mean more chaos in the operation, at least for the short run, and that’s not good for the city or for the company," said Zack Stalberg, executive director of the Committee of Seventy government watchdog group and former editor of the Daily News.
"There’s been confusion at the newspaper company for as long as anybody can remember, but we were looking forward to some clarity and some direction with the auction last week," Stalberg said. "It certainly said something about his [Katz'] value system that he was willing to pay probably a good deal more than the company was worth in order to ensure this form of journalism."
Katz and partners including H.F. "Gerry" Lenfest paid $88 million last week for the papers and website. In Sunday's Inquirer, the owners pledged in an op-ed to lead a "new era in journalism" emphasizing traditional, investigative reporting, but with an eye toward stories that celebrated life in the region as well.
Katz, three friends and three crew members died Saturday night in a freak plane crash after attending a fundraising event in Massachusetts. Condolences and statements of sorrow were issued by numerous local elected officials and community leaders as the news spread on Sunday.
His son Drew, 42, owns an outdoor advertising company and will inherit his father's stake in the company.
"Without Lew, nobody knows what will happen next," Stalberg said. "He was certainly the dominant player."
Philadelphia GOP figure Matthew Wolfe said he expects the Katz' son and co-owners to carry on Katz' focus on traditional journalism.
"I got the feeling that the Katz people were news people," Wolfe said.
NTSB launches investigation, cause of fire unclear
An official with the National Transportation Safety Board said the Gulfstream IV private jet had never been airborne and crashed shortly around 9:40 p.m. on Saturday at Hanscom Field, which is outside Concord, Massachusetts.
The plane went off the runway, rolled onto the grass, struck an antenna and also struck a fence. A fire erupted, officials said.
At this point, the crash appears accidental, officials said.
Lewis Katz' death this weekend is the latest chapter in the torrid struggle over Philly newspapers, as The Daily News and Inquirer have been bought and resold multiple times in the last decade.
They were sold by McClatchy Newspapers in June 2006 to Philadelphia Media Holdings (PMH) for $515 million.
In 2010, Philadelphia Media Network bought the papers for $139 million from Philadelphia Media Holdings, which had declared bankruptcy in 2009.
Interstate General Media, led by Katz, Norcross and Lenfest, bought the papers for $55 million in 2012.
Last week, Katz, Lenfest and partners bought the papers from Norcross and his partners for $88 million.