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Two Temple trustees win ownership of top Philly papers

Lewis Katz and Gerry “H.F.” Lenfest win auction for control of Philly media companies with an $88 million bid.

Two Temple trustees, Lewis Katz and H.F. “Gerry” Lenfest, won ownership of The Philadelphia Inquirer and the Philadelphia Daily News at a private auction held in a Philadelphia law firm Tuesday, the Inquirer reported.

​Katz and Lenfest’s $88 million bid won them control of Interstate General Media, which controls the Inquirer, the Philadelphia Daily News, philly.com, each paper’s website and a printing plant in Conshohocken, Pa. That price also includes the company’s $15 million debt.

​The bid won them all the shares of three other former owners, totaling nearly 58 percent of the company. Southern New Jersey Democratic powerbroker George Norcross III, Joseph Buckelew and William Hankowsky sold these shares.

​”We feel very fortunate we were able to prevail in the auction,” Lenfest told the Inquirer. “We feel we want to return the Inquirer to the great newspaper it has been for . . . many years.” At an employee meeting, the owners said Lenfest will serve as interim publisher.

​The auction is the end of a dispute between Katz, Lenfest and Norcross over the firing of executive editor William K. Marimow, who was fired in October 2013 by publisher Robert Hall with Norcross’ support.

​Philadelphia magazine reported that Marimow was fired after disputes and infighting with Hall. Hall sent an email to Inquirer owners explaining his decision, citing “months of recalcitrance by Marimow” and saying that Katz and his girlfriend, Inquirer city editor Nancy Phillips, protected Marimow from Hall.

​Marimow reportedly stalled Hall’s recommended firings and resisted changes at the newspaper.

“Marimow is not and never will be the change agent that we need at the Inquirer to turn around the circulation decline and grow our company,” Philadelphia magazine quoted from Hall’s email to the owners.

​Norcross wanted Marimow to stay fired, while Katz and Lenfest wanted him reinstated. A judge ordered reinstating Marimow in late November.

“We both think very, very highly of Bill Marimow,” Lenfest told the Inquirer after the auction. “The proof is in the pudding.”

​The November result brought Marimow back to the company, but rejected Katz’s wish to have Hall fired. Lenfest, who will now replace Hall, told the Inquirer that Hall wants to retire.

​Since the now-disbanded group took control of the Inquirer in April 2012, coverage of Temple has increased roughly seven-fold. A LexisNexis search shows that from Jan. 1, 2012 to April 1, 2012, there were 38 Inquirer articles mentioning the word “Temple,” not including religious worship or crime stories involving Temple University Hospital.

​The next year, from Jan. 1, 2013 to April 1, 2013, there were 218 stories about Temple. 35 of the 38 stories from 2012 were sports stories compared to 171 of 218 for 2013, showing a large increase in non-sports stories.

​While the Inquirer has recently shifted toward more local coverage, similar LexisNexis searches for other Philadelphia colleges and universities show no significant increase in coverage as with Temple.

​Katz and Lenfest told the Inquirer it was too early to comment on their plans for IGM’s future.

​Katz, 72, who received a biology degree from Temple in 1963, owns five New Jersey radio stations and is a former co-owner of the New Jersey Devils and the New Jersey Nets. He currently serves on the Temple trustees’ Athletics committee and has been a trustee since 1998.

​In November, Katz pledged $25 million to Temple, the largest donation in the school’s history. Earlier this month, Katz announced that his donation will go to the School of Medicine. In response, Temple will rename the school the Lewis Katz School of Medicine.

​Lenfest, 82, started his cable company, Lenfest Communications, in 1974 with a loan from Walter Annenberg, a former owner of the Inquirer and namesake of Temple’s Annenberg Hall.

​Lenfest told the Inquirer that he made nearly $1 billion when he sold his company to Comcast in 1999.

​Lenfest became a trustee in 2013 as an appointee of Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Corbett.

Joe Brandt can be reached at jbrandt@temple.edu or on Twitter @JBrandt_TU. 

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