Wednesday, November 4, 2015

Gerry's Sinking Ships

By Ralph Cipriano

In July, after he got through negotiating a new labor contract, H.F. "Gerry" Lenfest, the  philanthropist who owns the Philadelphia Inquirer, Daily News and, celebrated by passing out $1,000 bonuses to his employees.

Today, a month after Terry Egger, Lenfest's hand-picked successor, took over as publisher, he will lay off 46 newsroom employees.

What the hell happened, union leaders want to know. When he was passing out bonuses, Lenfest bragged he had turned the company around, recalled Bill Ross, executive director of the Philadelphia Newspaper Guild. Then, "He [Lenfest] hires the guy" [Egger] . . . and has him do all the dirty work."

The layoffs begin a merger of what are now three distinct news operations, the Inquirer, Daily News and, into "a unified, one-newsroom approach," Egger wrote Monday in a letter to all employees.

Lenfest, along with the late Lewis Katz, were the winning bidders at a court-ordered auction in 2014, buying the city's only two daily newspapers and website for the inflated price of $88 million. But Philadelphia Media Network, the parent company that owns the two papers and website, has lost $90 million in advertising revenues since 2011, Egger said. The current layoffs are needed to save between $5 million and $6 million, Egger told employees.

That prompted union leaders to recall that Lenfest previously donated around that same amount, $5.8 million in 2010, to keep the SS United States, the rusting ocean liner docked on Delaware Avenue, out of the scrapyard.

"This isn't the only sinking ship Gerry's invested in," Ross cracked.

It costs $60,000 a month to keep the SS United States dry-docked on Delaware Avenue. When it was built in 1952, the ocean liner dubbed "America's flagship" was the world's fastest passenger ship with passengers that included JFK, Marlon Brando and Marilyn Monroe.

A conservancy named after the ship announced last week that it's raised $100,000, which for now will keep the ship out of the scrapyard. The conservancy has big plans to tow the ship to the Brooklyn harbor, and turn it into a floating office and restaurant complex. It would cost $2 million to move the ship, and between $50 million and $200 million to finance the entire project.

Without millions more in donations, however, the scrapyard looms for America's flagship. Lenfest, for one, has said he won't be donating any more money to the project.

"I've already put up a lot of money to give the conservancy reasonable time to restore it," Lenfest told Jeff Gammage and Matt Gelb of the Inquirer on Oct. 25th. "I have no plans to do anything further."

The Philadelphia Inquirer, founded in 1829, was once known as the city's "paper off record." It covered the Civil War, won 20 Pulitzer Prizes, and used to carry the bylines of Bartlett and Steele, George Anastasia, and Steve Lopez. But this year, the Inky needed a grant from the Wyncote Foundation to cover the mayor's race.

As with the SS United States, Lenfest's generosity with PMN appears to have a  limit.

"As we look ahead over the next three years, we need to be self-sustaining, which means that our revenue needs to be greater than our expenses," Egger wrote employees. "In order for PMN to 'stay in the game,' we need to focus our energies with unprecedented precision and urgency."

On Sept. 30th, the Billy Penn website had a scoop, that Lenfest had discussed creating a nonprofit that would "align" the Inquirer, Daily News and with Temple University.

Could the Inky, Daily News and eventually be owned by a nonprofit?

Lenfest is already on record as saying it's a great concept.

"I think eventually it would be wonderful if nonprofits would own newspapers," Lenfest told Philanthropy magazine in an interview last year. "And they're allowed to do that in the U.S. code  now, to take that in that kind of revenue. Eventually I foresee foundations taking ownership of newspapers."

This afternoon, Egger will meet with union leaders to disclose who's on the layoff list.

Union leaders feel betrayed.

"We spent eight months bargaining for a contract with no indication that this was afoot," said Howard Gensler, president of the Newspaper Guild.

"They've been hiring constantly throughout the year," he said of PMN. "Now all these people we've hired are in jeopardy."

Looking forward to the long game, Gensler said that if the papers are indeed going nonprofit, "I think they need to get this house in order before they bring another house into it."


  1. Actually the idea of aligning with Temple might be best for the region, having other leadership may encourage more accurate reporting. The Philadelphia Inquirer is not listed among progressive publications trying to wake us up to the injustices exhibited by the justice department. Long has this paper served the needs of the wealthy, the connected . Questioning the reason behind unnecessary indictments and federal cases used as political paybacks and scare tactics would be a good start. Traffic Court and the Police Narcotics trials were not indictable offenses, a Judicial Review Board and Internal Affairs are already in place to handle such concerns. Not one reporter questioned why these cases were not handled through the proper channels, saving the taxpayers millions of dollars. Pretending to save the citizens of the city from crimes that did not take place is a devastating blow to our civil liberties. Not one reporter present at the Traffic Court trial reported that the FBI agent on the case was caught lying to a grand jury and again at the trial. Every defendants attorney but one referenced his actions in their closing arguments in front of a room full of reporters, but not one word was printed, not that day or any day following . How is this helping to promote justice,aligning the media with the prosecution is very dangerous . Printing one sided accusations about a defendant taints the jury pool. I watched a federal prosecutor lie to a federal judge about the facts of a case, damming the defendant, later when the accurate facts were revealed, no apology or retraction was forthcoming from the media, nor was the prosecutor singled out as purposely distorting the facts for his own benefit . Chipping away at any one persons civil rights chips away at all of our civil rights. Facts of any case should not be made public before a jury is chosen, this along with threats of jail to innocent people for not "cooperating" is reminiscent of an oppressive society . During the middle ages, having people confess to crimes they did not commit to get a conviction was commonplace, I thought we had graduated pass that point but I was wrong, its used to this very day.
    Exposing these facts would turn the country around, having the justice department "lord" over citizens has caused the current unrest the country is experiencing. Prosecutors need to be held accountable and the media can make it happen, watching the media turn its back on facts was sickening . I have yet to decide if the media was censored from printing what they witnessed or is so used to watching this type of behavior its acceptable to them. Another reason could be the prosecutors hand the media a fully formed article and as the lawyers working for the government could never lie and disgrace their office , why would the media doubt them. Team prosecution works very well together and has been for years. This style of journalism is destroying the fabric of our society.
    Soliciting comments from elected officials on a defendants guilt or innocence is poor journalism, no one should comment, it again proves the media and the prosecutors office work hand in hand. If the media does not start standing up for individuals all is lost, no wonder the United States ranks 15th in the world for freedoms.

  2. I agree that the Inquirer habitually aligns itself with the prosecutors in just about every recent big case I can think of. They've got a real problem with that. And when a jury blows out a case, as with the RICO indictment of the Philly narcs, the Inquirer sticks to its story line, continues to lambaste the defendants, and refuses to report on what went wrong. It's not responsible journalism. But that's what they do at the Inquirer.

    1. What is especially dangerous in my estimation, was watching reporters pop in and out of the courtroom making" guest appearances" only to be handed their script for the day. I would suggest the reporters read some entries from the National Registry of Exonerations or Michael Mortons life story.Interview defendants after the trial to see how they were treated, or giving equal space to the defendants before trial. Jerry could turn the paper around by printing what actually takes place in a court room ,then interviewing the defendants after a trial to see how they were treated and exposing the lies of the prosecutors , he could fill an entire section every week with people willing to tell their side of their story, or better yet witness forced to lie for the feds, that includes jail house witnesses. Give them immunity to talk, it will be the greatest story ever told.
      I wonder if since the federal prosecutors do not have to tell the truth its rubbing off on reporters ? Our government has taught us all how to behave, why bother telling the truth, the government certainly does not have to, they have their own rules. The greatest injustices are happening everyday perpetrated by the very people sworn to uphold justice.
      When I see an article accusing someone of a crime, I believe nothing, even if they confess.. What we need is an FBI agent to become a whistleblower to expose the corruption. My dream would be federal prosecutors on trial for all their crimes against innocent citizens. I now know where the expression" making a federal case of out something" came from,The sad truth is things are getting worse instead of better. No prison reform or mandatory sentencing change will interrupt the prosecutors. Exposing the truth is the only way, too bad the Inky reporters are otherwise occupied. I suppose unless it touches them personally they really don't care.

  3. I have two ideas for articles for the Inky, find out how much money was spent on the Police Narc trial and the Traffic Court trail, since both could have been handled internally, and ask if the public cared that its tax dollars were wasted. Never mind the human toll. See if Traffic Court is run the same way, find out if "consideration " is given state wide.
    Maybe the reporters that are being let go will start their own publication.

  4. Sadly, its Chaka Fattah Jr speaking out on the currupt practices of the Feds.

    1. I didn't realize Fattah Jr, was involved in both the Traffic Court trial , Police Narcotics trial as well as his own.

  5. Will Ralph expose the engagement of Kenney and Fumo and the Fairmount Mansion will be the incoming Mayor's residence.

    Did the romance get hot when Vincenzo kicked his fiancé to the curb?

    Is it included in the Fumo Biography or must we wait for the Inky to break the story.

    1. My understanding is that those two guys do not speak.


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