By Steve Tawa
PHILADELPHIA (CBS) — Co-owners Lewis Katz and Gerry Lenfest today agreed to pay $88 million for uncontested control of the parent company that owns the Philadelphia Inquirer and Daily News.
Beginning at 9:30am, in an auction whose operational details were determined previously by a Delaware bankruptcy court, the Katz-Lenfest partnership traded bids with rival co-owners led by George Norcross, beginning at a pre-set level of $77 million (see related story).
Bids from each side had to be submitted within 10 minutes of the other’s, and each increment had to be at least $1 million higher than the previous one (see previous story).
By around 11am today, a winner had been determined.
The logistics of the auction were largely what the Norcross group had asked for during four days of hearings in the Delaware court.
The auction was conducted at the Cira Centre, in West Philadelphia, where the auctioneer had arranged separate conference rooms for each faction to discuss its bidding plans privately.
The same feuding owners had together purchased the media company in 2012 for $55 million. This boardroom blood-feud became a public drama last October, when the Inquirer’s Pulitzer prize-winning editor, Bill Marimow, was fired.
Katz and Lenfest said the ownership agreement gave them a say in such personnel decisions, and they sued the company and tried to have publisher Bob Hall removed.
Then Norcross filed a countersuit against his fellow co-owners. A Philadelphia judge reinstated Marimow and allowed Hall to continue.
A short while later, the owners realized they had irreconcilable differences and went into divorce mode, prompting today’s auction.
After prevailing in today’s auction, Lenfest said he and his fellow owners are focused on one goal: “We want to return the Inquirer to the great newspaper in this nation that it’s been over — how many years? It started in the 1800s.”
Lenfest says he wants to retain Marimow as editor of the Inquirer. Katz sidestepped that commitment, although he has been a strong supporter of Marimow in the past.
He added they would seek a replacement for the retiring publisher, Bob Hall.
“We’re going to hire the best publisher that we can find,” Katz said, noting that they are currently evaulating five potential candidates. Lenfest will serve as publisher on an interim basis.
Norcross put out a statement saying the company “was on a path to profitability before litigation derailed the progress.”