Monday, January 21, 2019

Large And In Charge: Brian Tierney Returns To The Inky

By Ralph Cipriano
for BigTrial.net

At The Philadelphia Inquirer last month, people were startled to see former publisher Brian Tierney swaggering around the place again, still acting like a big shot.

It's the same old Brian, they say. Big and bearded; large and in charge. But not everybody's happy about it.

"He's the guy who bankrupted the company," complained Bill Ross, executive director of the NewsGuild of Greater Philadelphia. "Why would they want him around?"

Inquirer Publisher and Chief Executive Terrance C.Z. "Terry" Egger, who last November, was named Editor & Publisher's Publisher of the year, had an answer.

"All I can tell you is that a few years back the late [H.F.] "Gerry" Lenfest asked Mr. Tierney to join the Board [of Directors] and he accepted," Egger wrote in an email.

That would be the board of directors of Philadelphia Media Network [PMN], the company that owns the Inquirer, Philadelphia Daily News, and philly.com.

Back in 2015, the Inquirer announced that Lenfest had just appointed an eight-member board of directors for PMN. The board members included corporate and civic leaders but nobody mentioned Tierney, who subsequently and quietly was named as the board's ninth member.

Lenfest, who died last August at 88, was the philanthropist who bought the papers at an auction for $88 million in 2014, and then set up a nonprofit to oversee his holdings. According to Ross, Tierney apparently has been serving on the board for two or three years but nobody ever told the union about it.

Tierney did not respond to a request for comment. Neither did Josh Kopelman, the venture capitalist who in 2016 was named chairman of PMN's board of directors.

Ross, however, had plenty to say about the return of Tierney.

"He's a failed past publisher," Ross said. "The guy who bankrupted the company, screwed all the union pension plans, and paid himself close to a million dollars in salary and Christmas bonuses, including a $4,000 a week pay raise that a judge ordered him to give back."

"He [Tierney] also rewarded all his friends with huge salaries and bonuses before he bankrupted the company," Ross continued. "And let's not forget his brother's law firm, which was also awarded millions in fees from the bankrupt estate."

Tierney was the former Inquirer publisher and CEO of Philadelphia Media Holdings LLC, which bought the two newspapers and philly.com for $515 million in 2006, and promptly went bankrupt three years later.

In the Inquirer newsroom, where they haven't had a raise in more than a decade, reporters and editors hold a grudge against Tierney. That's because he's the guy who steered the company into bankruptcy rather than make a $50 million default payment owed the NewsGuild for withdrawing from the Guild's pension plan. The result -- the pension fund's in critical status today, Ross says, and has approximately only seven years of assets remaining.

Instead of $50 million, the pension fund was only able to collect approximately $200,000 in bankruptcy proceedings, Ross said, leaving a gaping hold in the fund.

When the pension plan goes insolvent, it will be up to the guaranteer of the fund, the Pension Benefit Guaranty Corporation, which is also facing insolvency, to take over and pay reduced benefits to Guild members.

Raiding pension plans is a familiar tactic of Tierney's. When he overspent for the newspapers to the tune of $515 million in 2006, the largest single investor was the pension plan of the now-defunct Philadelphia carpenters union. When the newspapers went bust in 2009, the carpenters' pension fund lost every dollar of the $45 million it had invested, along with $2 million from the carpenters union's general fund.

There's a disturbing track record here for the region's so-called paper of record. When Tierney and his allies bought the newspapers in 2006, the Inquirer didn't disclose the true size of the investments by the carpenters' union, nor the loss of every dollar three years later when the Inky went bankrupt. Nor was the paper upfront in disclosing Tierney's self-enrichment during the lead up to bankruptcy, nor Tierney's recent appointment to PMN's board of directors.

Was Tierney's appointment to the board of directors kept quiet because it might disturb the paper's former creditors who lost millions when the papers went bankrupt? Lawyers for those creditors could not be reached for comment.

After Tierney stepped down as publisher he returned to the Inquirer in 2013 to run a national advertising campaign that subsequently flopped. He was paid $25,000 a month to bring in new revenues, but was fired in October 2013 for under-performing.

But now he's back and last month, Tierney stopped by the advertising department to order up a couple of free full-page ads in the Inquirer on behalf of Blue Cross and Blue Shield, Ross said, ads that typically run about $75,000.

Ross said he had no idea why the ads were free. But it might have something to do with the Tierney connection.

On the O'Dwyer's PR website, which bills itself as the "Inside News of PR and Marketing Communications," both Blue Cross and Blue Shield are listed as clients of Brian Communications, Tierney's current PR agency.

"Our advertising members who have to deal with him [Tierney] are totally outraged that he's involved and ordering people around," Ross said. "When he calls people he's arrogant, so he hasn't changed."

Tierney, according to Ross, also bragged to union members about the great job he supposedly did as publisher, leaving the implication that he did a better job than Egger.

Ross wonders with his legacy of bankruptcy and profligate spending, usually to enrich himself and his friends, why anyone in management would let Tierney back in the building.

"He's acting like he's publisher again," Ross warned.

Egger, E&P's Publisher of the Year, did not respond to a request for further comment.

5 comments:

  1. It's time to make the Inky Great Again.
    Tierney may be the Shepherd to the Digital Age.

    I hope they don't bring back Rosie.
    I would hate to see your head explode.

    ReplyDelete
  2. No problems with bringing Rosey back. Every comedian needs a straight man.

    ReplyDelete
  3. Sounds like he took a page out of Donald Trump's book, or maybe he is a graduate of Trump University. Business people should be made to pay for their crimes instead of being rewarded with bonuses. Mismanagement during his tenure does not need a repeat performance. If I worked there I would surely want to know how this is possible to have someone who was so inadequate running the show. Although I find it hard to muster any sympathy for reporters who show so little concern for others, namely politicians.

    Inky editors frequently call for transparency in state and local government by targeting politicians, maybe they need to practice what they preach. Management owes the rank and file more respect than to have him back at the helm.

    I would suggest that he has the backing of Republican powerhouses who would like to see him rid the state of powerful Democrats, either through election losses or indictments. Instead of policing the region the Inky should clean their own house, their inability to speak the truth comes back to bite them time and again.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Another left-wing liberal snowflake crying about Trump again it amazes me how you people just dragged Trump and everything

      Delete
  4. Assuming that there is evidence to corroborate the allegation that Tierney is able to place free advertisements in the Inky, can it be established how long he has had this access and why?

    Are there not grounds for paying advertisers to join as a class to seek to litigate discriminatory policy?

    Do other members of the Board have similar benefits?

    There seems to be some level of extortion involved and who are the parties that signed off on this peculiar practice.

    Surely, Tierney Communications is a for profit enterprise.

    ReplyDelete

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