New boss same as the old boss?

This week Philadelphia Newspaper LLC, the parent company of The Philadelphia Inquirer, Daily News and Philly.com as well a number of daily newspapers throughout the region, lost its bid to buy back the company. On Thursday, the company’s senior lenders won the bid at auction in New York for $139 million. The price was much more than analysts or media experts had expected. That may reflect the spirited fight that the company’s colorfull chairman and CEO and former ad man Brian Tierney had waged to keep it local.

When I read the news reports, I thought of Michael Sokolove, author of numerous books and former Daily News reporter, who had penned the feature story in New York Times Magazine about Mr. Tierney’s effort to keep the paper not just locally owned, but to establish it as a case that big metro daily newspapers were still viable in the age of digital media. It was Sokolove’s piece after all, that prompted IABC Philly to host The Future of News (of which he was a panelist), a first of its kind seminar in our region dealing with changing face of journalism and media.

I emailed Mr. Sokolove in Washington, DC where he lives to get his perspective on the sale and whether he thought it represented the death knell for big metro dailies as his story a year ago seemed to intone.

“While there may be plenty to criticize about Tierney’s reign, he backed serious journalism of the type the city desperately needs,” said Sokolove. “Against all odds, he established credibility within a skeptical newsroom, so that those journalists never had to wonder if their work, wherever it led, would be supported.”

As to what changes the new ownership may bring, Sokolove offered the following, “They will surely say a lot of the right things, and perhaps ask Bill Marimow to stay on, at least for awhile, if he’ll agree. Beyond that? It’s all a crapshoot. Much depends on the coming labor negotiations.”

For those of us who work in media relations, there is obvious interest in what changes will come. It is hard to imagine a rough and tumble city like Philadelphia without a robust major daily newspaper.  Whether you’re a subscriber who counts on its local reporting to inform and educate on range of issues, or whether you’re a professional publicist like me who maintains key relationships at the papers, new ownership’s next moves will surely be worth watching.

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