By Pat Loeb

PHILADELPHIA (CBS) — The sale of Philadelphia’s newspapers has attracted a new potential buyer.

Philanthropist Gerry Lenfest has joined a group of bidders now negotiating exclusively for ownership of Philadelphia Media Network Inc., the company that owns the Inquirer, Daily News, and web site.

Lenfest is the go-to guy when a Philadelphia institution is in need: museums (related story), schools (related story), even a rusting cruise ship wanting preservation (related story).

So does his entry into the group bidding for Philadelphia Media Network cast the papers as charities in need of a savior?

Lenfest did not respond to requests for comments.  Nor did Ray Perelman, another local philanthropist rumored to be joining the group.

But Rick Edmonds of the Poynter Institute says they would not be the first to be buying a paper as a public service.

“It is becoming more common now, starting with Warren Buffett buying his hometown paper,” Edmonds says.

And Edmonds thinks the attraction of the papers for philanthropists is similar to that of other arts nonprofits: “The key is, we should have a paper as good as our city.”

Edmonds sees no harm in philanthropist-owners, as long as their interests stay separate from the newsroom — something that would be a concern even if the paper were purchased by businessmen hoping to make a profit.

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