|Hands-On Inky Owner Lewis Katz|
At The Philadelphia Inquirer on Tuesday, owner Lewis Katz raised eyebrows by sitting in on a morning news meeting attended by at least 10 editors. Katz, according to two sources, discussed a story that ran in that morning's paper about the surprise resignation of Peter Luukko, president of Comcast-Spectacor, the company that owns the Philadelphia Flyers.
Owners don't usually attend news meetings. Katz, however, has asserted previously in court that he has an "open door" to visit the Inky newsroom whenever he wants.
And Katz doesn't have to stop by the newsroom to influence news coverage. Last week, an Inky obit writer was informed by a funeral director that Katz had personally Ok'd an obituary to run in the paper; the funeral director claimed that Katz was a "personal friend" of a relative of the deceased. The obituary was for the father of actress and Philadelphia native Kim Delaney. The obit writer, concerned about editorial interference, reported the incident to the Newspaper Guild.
Both incidents occurred at a newspaper where all six new owners, including Katz, made a public pledge not to meddle in editorial operations. The same owners who are busy suing each other over allegations of past meddling, by recently filing three appeal briefs in Superior Court over a period of nine days.
When he testified in Common Pleas court last month, Katz was asked about the no-meddling pledge, and whether it "places a wall around the newsroom and tells the owners to stay out of the newsroom?"
"No, there's no wall, it's an open door," Katz replied. "You can walk in there as owners and talk to reporters and editors."
That's just what happened Tuesday at the morning news meeting of editors. It's a session usually held to discuss the stories that ran in that day's newspaper, and the stories that reporters are working on for the next day's paper. The meeting was attended by Marimow, Inquirer City Editor Nancy Phillips, who is Katz's girlfriend, and other editors.
Katz spoke about the Luukko story written by Inky reporter Bob Fernandez. It's not known what he said. When contacted on his cell phone, Katz responded, "Who is this," and said he would call back, but he didn't.
Maybe he had to attend the afternoon news meeting.
Maybe he had to attend the afternoon news meeting.
In response to Katz's visit to the news meeting, Dan Fee, a spokesman for the Norcross ownership faction, which comprises 4 of 6 feuding owners, said, "This is another example of why it is so important that the publisher be the one in control of the newsroom."
|Friend of Lew's|
In another phone call to the obit writer, funeral director Chris Dinan told Cook, "Mr. Katz OKed it to go in."
Cook forwarded the notes from the funeral director to Bill Ross, executive director of the Newspaper Guild. On Dec. 3, Ross replied, "I'm lost. Is this interference by one of the owners?"
"Yes," Cook responded. "It is an assigning editor's job to okay obits to go in, not an owner through a funeral director."
Can you imagine the cozy reception Katz receives when he visits that Inquirer news meeting, and says hello to his girlfriend, the city editor, or Marimow, the editor of the paper that his girlfriend handled the negotiations to hire?
Maybe it sheds some light on the disparate treatment Katz receives from our two daily newspapers.
On Jan. 11, Chris Brennan of the Daily News wrote a short 491-word story about 8th and Market as a potential location for a new casino. In the story, Brennan interviewed Ken Goldenberg, the developer leading the investors' group seeking the casino license. Brennan talked about how the Goldenberg Group owns 60 percent of two acres along Market Street. Then he writes: "Lewis Katz, a managing partner of the company that owns the Daily News, and philly.com, is a limited partner in Goldenberg, but is not involved in the casino application."
But when Inquirer columnist Karen Heller wrote a 687-word column Nov. 25th about Market East, "the gaping hole in Center City's success," she discusses the property at 8th and Market -- "a tract of failed dreams" gambling on "the crapshoot of a state casino license." But Heller doesn't mention Katz's interest. Neither does Inky business writer Chris Hepp in a 435-word story Dec. 2 on how to "jump-start East Market Street" that also discusses the land at 8th and Market.
There may be many legitimate reasons for both Inky writers not to mention Katz's interest. Maybe the writers put it in the story and some editor took it out. But if the Inky is going to be advocating for more development and more resources to be poured into East Market Street, and one of their owners stands to benefit, it just looks bad not to disclose that interest.
We now turn our attention to the battle of the legal briefs being fought in Superior Court.
In their filings, the majority ownership faction headed by George Norcross, the Democratic boss of South Jersey, claims that Katz meddled in the newsroom to prevent the justifiable firing of Inquirer editor Bill Marimow. The appeal claims the newspaper is being irreparably harmed by Marimow's court-ordered reinstatement, because it will continue to allow Katz, acting through Marimow, to keep meddling in the newsroom.
The minority ownership faction headed by Katz counters that Marimow is doing a great job, and deserves to stay on. The minority faction charges that Publisher Bob Hall was meddling on behalf of Norcross when he fired Marimow. The Katz faction claims the Inquirer needs Marimow to stay on the job to prevent Norcross from doing any further meddling in the newsroom.
"At stake in this appeal is the editorial and journalistic independence of the Philadelphia Inquirer ... one of the oldest, most influential and widely-circulated newspapers in our Commonwealth."
"On Oct. 7, 2013, the Publisher of the Inquirer discharged the editor for failing to implement critical journalistic and editorial measures designed to halt the downward spiral of the Inquirer, and lead it into the new age of successful print and digital media," the appeal states.
The appeal says that Common Court Pleas Judge Patricia McInerney wrongly decided that editor Marimow could only be fired by two owners, Norcross and Katz, who sit on a management committee. Judge McInerney made her ruling "despite the fact that both Mr. Katz and Mr. Norcross (and the other owners) expressly pledged in IGM's governance agreement -- and to the employees of the paper and the public at large -- that they would not 'attempt to directly or indirectly control or influence any of the editorial or journalistic policies and decisions" of the newspaper, the appeal says.
Interstate General Media [IGM] is the parent company that owns the Inquirer, Daily News and philly.com website.
The appeal asks the Superior Court to overturn Judge McInerney's decision, "thereby upholding the proper governance of the Inquirer and restoring the public's confidence that the editorial and journalistic decisions of the Inquirer will remain free from the influence of its owners.' "
"Every day that Mr. Marimow serves as the Inquirer's editor endangers the paper's chances of survival," the appeal states. "The Inquirer and its newsroom are currently operating under a cloud of uncertainty." The appeal claims that Inky publisher Bob Hall had the right to fire Marimow, according to journalism tradition, and that the Inky's no-medling clause prevented Katz from having a vote on whether to fire Marimow.
In response, on Dec. 3, lawyers for the Katz faction filed a "memorandum of law in opposition" to the Norcross faction's application for special relief. The memorandum said without Judge McInerney's decision to reinstate Marimow, Norcross, with the help of publisher Bob Hall, "would have continued Norcross's campaign to control the operations of The Philadelphia Inquirer, and to run roughshod over the protections against such unilateral control" included in the company's limited liability agreement.
The memorandum of law said that after Judge McInerney ruled that Marimow had to be immediately reinstated, "Marimow returned to applause and a strong showing of support from the Inquirer's newsroom."
Did they expect his underlings to boo him?
The memorandum states that "far from championing journalistic independence," Publisher Hall was "merely carrying out Norcross's wishes and directives, subverting the voting/veto rights of management committee member Katz. The "clear purpose" of the non-interfernce policy "was to prevent the owners from interfering with news content," the memorandum states.
The memorandum said the accusation that Marimow is irreparably harming the Inquirer does not take into account "The Inquirer's improved performance under Marmow's direction." The memorandum states that Marimow went along with every change Hall wanted to make, with the exception of terminating "three distinguished and award-winning editors, who were clearly targeted for firing because they had antagonized someone in Norcross's family."
It's a clear shot at Lexie Norcross, the 26-year-old daughter of George and corporate VP who oversees digital operations.
While Marimow was editor, the memorandum states, "paid online circulation nearly doubled," Sunday digital circulation "soared 72.5 percent, and the Inquirer's total daily circulation rose to 258,127, an 8.9 percent increase.
In response, on Dec. 4, team Norcross filed a "reply in support of" their request for an expedited appeal. They stated in their reply that the Inquirer editor is "a key player with respect to the paper's editorial and journalistic policies and decisions."
"Thus, the power to influence and control the Inquirer's editor is the power to influence and control its editorial and journalistic policies and decisions," the reply states. Team Norcross continues to assert that the owners no-meddling pledge prevents the management committee composed of Norcross and Katz from "having the power to interfere with the firing of the editor."
Judge McInerney, the reply states, never addressed this issue. The reply says that during the recent court battle in Common Pleas court, owner Katz and another owner allied with him, H.F. "Gerry" Lenfest, "admitted" that the no-meddling pledge "reaches beyond 'news content' to the very 'operations of the newsroom.' "
"Surely then, controlling and influencing the editor, the person in charge of the newsroom's operations, would conflict with the" no-meddling pledge, the reply states. By allowing the Inky editor to serve at the pleasure of "a single member" of IGM's management committee, the reply states, Judge McInerney's decision "calls into doubt the journalistic independence and integrity of a paper that can ill afford such questions."