Earlier this year, former Philadelphia mayor Ed Rendell announced that he and his group – including tycoons George Norcross III, Lewis Katz and Edward Snider – were interested in buying Philadelphia Media Network, which publishes the Philadelphia Inquirer, the Daily News and Philly.com. PMN, which has been losing revenue, and recently announced plans to move from its building on Broad and Callowhill streets, will be changing hands for the third time since 2006.
The Inquirer, which boasts a 183-year existence and a slew of Pulitzer prizes to boot, has a rich history of investigative journalism and exposés in a city rife with political corruption, racial tension and, most importantly, proud citizens.
In my three years living in Philadelphia, one point that has become abundantly clear again and again is the pride Philadelphians retain for their city – its streets, its businesses, its history, its teams and its struggle.
The struggle now, should Rendell, et. al. purchase PMN at its reported worth of $100 million, is that the company’s editorial integrity and dedication to free speech can – and will – be compromised for the future holders’ biases.
Norcross is a democratic kingpin in South New Jersey and was formerly on the Courier-Post’s editorial board. Katz, in addition to being a member of Temple’s Board of Trustees and the Presidential Search Committee, holds a bachelor’s degree in business from Temple, currently owns Kinney System Holding Corp., a major national parking company and is a major campaign donor. Snider is the chairman of the Comcast subsidiary which owns the Philadelphia Flyers. In addition to Rendell’s eight year term as mayor of Philadelphia, year-and-a-half seat as the general chairman of the Democratic National Committee and seven-year term as governor of Pennsylvania, was once the senior advisor of an investment bank and the district attorney of Philadelphia.
Much like one wouldn’t expect a journalist to understand the inner mechanics of a Fortune 500 company, it’s equally incomprehensible how a team of businessmen and politicos will manage a newspaper’s mode of operations.
Known as the “fourth estate,” newspapers are more than 20-some pages of black ink and local events. They are the protectors of free speech, a powerful check on governmental operations and necessary to the proper functioning of any democracy. But with the threat of Rendell and company interfering with the Inquirer and the Daily News’ integrity on the pages of politics, business and sports, Philadelphia’s dailies will no longer serve such functions.
In an open and unsigned letter to any future owners of PMN, the anonymous Inquirer writer said that it will be a waste of time and energy to purchase a newspaper for personal political gain and to control the masses.
“The bottom line is that journalistic bosses trying to control the community in Philadelphia will fail,” the writer said. “We will only succeed if the community supports and empowers us as journalists. Don’t get me wrong – the fact that wealthy people think it’s a civic duty to keep traditional journalism alive in Philadelphia is a wonderful thing. But that can’t be the end of the conversation. It has to be the beginning.”
And he or she is right. In 2012, citizens of a democracy cannot and should not stand for its free press establishment answering to political and business tycoons whose intentions for purchasing said media outlets are purely for personal and political gain.
But after sifting through campaign donation charts, New York Times’ coverage of the sale and reports of Inquirer editors threatening to fire any employee who publishes unapproved content on the sale, I have yet to find a solution to this corrupt conundrum.
So here’s my proposition:
Much like businessmen run their Fortune 500 companies and politicians oversee governmental operations, journalists and their community should similarly control their media outlets.
Though employee ownership is a rare situation in present-day media corporations, it’s not a situation that should be discredited.
According to Save the News, the Omaha World-Herald is the largest daily newspaper in Nebraska, and has been employee-owned for more than 30 years.
In models such as the Omaha World-Herald, all employees own a stake of the company, and can therefore preserve the editorial integrity of all content, sans biases from outside influences.
And in terms of the Daily News’ fate – as it currently faces being merged with the Inquirer – I think the employee-owned model may save its currently-profitable status, but only if both papers dedicate themselves to focus on the local.
Alexis Sachdev can be reached at email@example.com.