Let’s set aside the issue about whether Bill Marimow deserved to be fired as the editor of The Philadelphia Inquirer and discuss a more troubling question: Who’s the boss?
Former New York Nets owner Lewis Katz. H. F. “Jerry” Lenfest, South Jersey political boss George E. Norcross III; Krishna Singh, chief executive of the Holtec International Corp.; William Hankowsky, chief executive of Liberty Property Trust; and Joseph Buckelew, chairman of Conner Strong & Buckelew, joined forces last year to buy the Philadelphia Inquirer and the Daily News and website Philly.com for $55 million.
What made them think they would be able to set aside their considerable egos and work together to run one of the largest U.S. newspaper, an industry which none of them had any experience? I know they spoke of their desire to own the papers for the “benefit of the community”, but what does that mean? It’s doubtful that they appreciated the depth of the paper’s problems.
Every business needs a boss. In theory, the boss of Interstate General Media is supposed to be Publisher Robert Hall. In reality, it remains unclear who is running the company. Norcross has installed his daughter Lexi as the head of Philly.com and has decided to concern himself with such mundane details such as the brand of coffee employees drink in their break room.
About the only thing that the owners all agreed on was that they should hire Marimow, who had done two other tours with the Inquirer. Former Inquirer columnist Gail Shister noted in Philadelphia Magazine that Marimiow isn’t universally beloved. “As a newsman, Marimow’s moral authority is beyond question,” she writes. “As a manager, the same cannot be said.”
Katz and Lenfest are suing their fellow owners over their decision to fire Marimow. Given the level of animosity that is evident among the paper’s owners, I don’t see how they can continue to work together. Winding down this partnership isn’t going to be easy or cheap. This distraction is the last thing the paper needs.
Further complicating the situation is the long-time romance between Katz and Nancy Philips, a veteran Inquirer editor. That explains why Marimow was blocking needed change at the paper, according to his critics. Norcross told the New York Times, that Katz “wants to control the newsroom to satisfy his friends and punish his enemies.” That’s a ludicrous idea.
First of all, herding cats is easier than getting a large group of journalists to agree on anything Katz and Philips have made little effort to hide their relationship. Robert Hall,who has been associated with the paper for years, must have mentioned it at some point to the company’s owners.
The expression that “too many cooks spoil the broth” applies to the Inquirer. The paper, the Philadelphia Daily News and Philly.com are in desperate need of leadership.