Power broker vs. broken newspaper


Gary Cooper at the doomed desert fort in Beau Geste. Who will hold down the fort at the Inquirer?

Manning the doomed desert fort in Beau Geste. Who will hold down the fort at The Inquirer?

Swamp Rabbit chugged his hangover remedy, a carrot juice and swamp grass mix, as I complained to him about the sorry state of the mainstream news media — in this case, The Philadelphia Inquirer, which is owned by the same people who own The Philadelphia Daily News and Philly.com. All three news entities are in trouble because advertising revenues have been declining for years. And now the owners are fighting among themselves over the firing of The Inquirer‘s editor, Bill Marimow.

“What’s up with that?” the rabbit said. “Who’s in charge over there?”

“Good question,” I said before reading to him from a piece by David Carr of The New York Times:

Two of [the owners], Lewis Katz, the former owner of the New Jersey Nets, and H. F. Lenfest, a former cable TV mogul, filed suit against [The Inquirer], as well as its publisher, Robert J. Hall, claiming that Mr. Marimow’s firing was a breach of contract. They and Mr. Marimow claim he was dismissed at the behest of their partner George E. Norcross III, a businessman and power broker in Democratic politics, as part of a pattern of interference.

The old rodent wanted to know what had pissed off Norcross. I told him it looked like Norcross thought Marimow was too slow to make the changes at the The Inquirer that Norcross wanted (see the City Paper piece by Daniel Denvir), including firing certain staffers and working more closely with Philly.com. As Carr noted, Norcross already had forced some interesting changes at Philly.com:

Working through the publisher, Mr. Hall, Mr. Norcross installed his 25-year-old daughter, Alessandra, to run the Web site, Philly.com, even though she had no experience as a media executive.

The rabbit leaned over the porch and spit into the swamp and said, “Damn, she must be the female Charles Foster Kane.”

“It gets better,” I said. Here’s Carr assessing the quality of Philly.com and, indirectly, the leadership abilities of those who direct its course:

When it was not publishing link bait — last Thursday, there were prominent articles about drunk-dialing members of Congress and the pornographic career of New Jersey’s “tanning mom” — the site began competing with The Inquirer and its sister tabloid The Daily News, creating a civil war within a struggling organization that could ill afford the duplication.

“That don’t make no sense,” the rabbit said. “I thought you had to have brains to be a power broker.”

“You’ve been out here in the swamp too long,” I told him. “You can be rich and powerful and dumber than a fence post these days.”

Footnote: In case you don’t know, The Inquirer used to be a top-tier daily, jammed with ads and news stories written mostly by its own staffers. It was thick as a phone book on Sundays. Now, because of competition from digital media and other factors, it’s a ghost of itself. Its online site has trouble growing because of paywall restrictions. It’s like the fort in the old movie Beau Geste — from a distance it looks good, but get closer and you see dead soldiers propped along the parapet to fool people into thinking there are plenty of staffers left.

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