More than a month of swirling speculation and destabilizing insecurity over the future of Philadelphia Media Network, which owns the Daily News and the Inquirer, exploded in a war of words over the weekend between freelance writer and Metro contributor Laura Goldman, former Gov. Ed Rendell and several reporters at the Daily News and the Inquirer. The showdown was prompted by a post on Goldman's blog claiming that Rendell and his investment group were no longer planning to buy PMN.
Turmoil has been brewing at the publications over the possible sale and alleged censorship of its coverage. The
New York Times detailed the alleged censorship and possible negative
repercussions of Rendell's investment group buying the company Wednesday. Philadelphia author Buzz Bissinger wrote an op-ed to the paper the same day decrying Rendell's possible purchase of PMN as a conflict of interest and comparing Rendell to Randolph Hearst.
Three hundred Daily News and Inquirer employees signed a statement Friday calling on current and future owners to protect the journalistic integrity of the paper, according to Philly.com.
"As the Philadelphia Inquirer, Daily News and Philly.com
have gone up for sale once again, we watched with dismay as our own
coverage of the process was compromised and censored," part of the statement read.
According to the article, the sentence referred to the Feb. 4 removal of a paragraph detailing the 2011 financial results of PMN in an online version of an Inquirer article, the refusal to run an Inquirer article about developer Bart Blatstein's assemblage of a rival investor group in the Feb. 7 edition, and the Feb. 7 Daily News Philly Clout blog post about the same topic that was removed from Philly.com (and replaced by this).
After bumping into Rendell on the street, Goldman wrote on her blog, Naked Philadelphian, Saturday in a post entitled "Rendell Not Buying Philadelphia Inquirer and Daily News" that Rendell told her, "I don't think we will be buying." She speculated the decision may have been due to negative press, including The New York Times coverage.
An article on the Inquirer's website disputed the account Saturday, saying that, according to Rendell, he never told Goldman that he didn't think they would be buying and that he did not realize she was a reporter. He believes negotiations are still ongoing, according to the paper.
Goldman replied with another blog post on Naked Philadelphian yesterday, this one entitled "RIP Philadelphia Inquirer." She claimed that "the Rendellization of the paper has started," arguing that Rendell knew she was a reporter and detailing the numerous times she had interviewed and socialized with him over the course of 30 years. The post also took aim at Inquirer reporter John Martin, saying, "He acted as Rendell's public relations counselor while writing the rebuttal to my piece."
Politico reported yesterday that, in an interview with Rendell, he said that his reply to Goldman was one he often gave to well-wishers on the street to "tamp down enthusiasm" because he was carrying groceries. "But the report is nowhere near correct. Negotiations are still going on," he told the blog.
In an email, Goldman replied that Rendell was not carrying groceries and that she asked him what was happening but did not wish him well, as she is against his buying the papers.
A Daily News article today claimed that Rendell is done speaking about the deal in light of the controversy, especially The New York Times report and Goldman's posts. According to the article, Rendell said, "You're going to have to waterboard me to get me to say anything."
He did attempt to clarify the Goldman situation, admitting that his response to her was something like, "Gee, I don't know. It's not a sure thing by any means. It probably
just what I say to ordinary folks when I don't want to have an extended
conversation about what will happen. It had absolutely no meaning," Rendell told the paper, maintaining that he did not know that Goldman was a reporter or that his "offhand remark" would be published.
Meanwhile, Daily News writer Will Bunch posted, "An open letter to the next owners of Philadelphia Media Networks" on his
Attytood blog yesterday expressing his own concerns and raising more questions about the Rendell-led bidders' possible purchase.
In it, he said that what worried him more than
potential political conflicts of interest was the bidders' lack of
digital savvy and innovative ideas, speculation about plans to kill off the Daily News as a separate paper — fueled by the recent merger of some of the two papers' newsroom functions— and possible reluctance to listen to the readers' desire for coverage.
"The vibe I get so far from the would-be owners is they want to buy
the Philadelphia papers to keep them the same. That's noble, but that's
also not enough. There needs to be a zeal to make them better, to be
agents of radical change," Bunch said.
He said that, moving forward, the buyers would need not only progressive plans, but increased transparency at the publications and a mindfulness not to talk down to readers or dictate coverage. "The bottom line is that journalistic bosses trying to control the
community in Philadelphia will fail," he said. "We will only succeed if the
community supports and empowers us as journalists."