By Pat Loeb
PHILADELPHIA (CBS) — This year saw Philadelphia’s two daily newspapers change hands for the fourth time in five years, in a secretive deal that involved hedge funds, local political bosses, and the censoring of reporters’ stories.
For an institution dedicated to the public’s right to know, the sale of the Inquirer and Daily News was extraordinarily covert. The hedge funds that owned the paper were so averse to disclosure that a newspaper spokesman initially claimed it wasn’t for sale.
Then, when Philadelphia developer Bart Blatstein tried to join the bidding, not only was he shut out but a story on the papers’ web site reporting his interest was taken down on orders from publisher Greg Osberg.
Osberg later apologized:
“In retrospect I shouldn’t have done that. I wish I hadn’t.” (See related story)
Osberg lost his job anyway, even though the paper did go to his preferred bidders: a group of local business leaders, including South Jersey political boss George Norcross (see news story).
Aware that his potential conflicts of interest worried the newsroom, Norcross signed a pledge not to interfere with coverage.
“The opportunity here is for us to own the paper, not run the paper,” he said. “That pledge means something to us and should mean something to everyone in this room.”
Blatstein did purchase the newspapers’ iconic headquarters tower on North Broad Street, announcing plans to turn it into a casino (see news story).
The papers, meanwhile, moved their newsroom operations into a center city office building (see news story).
The ownership dramas of 2012 merely exacerbated the troubles of the papers, caught in the turmoil of an industry undergoing a seismic shift.