Local Investors Buy Inquirer, Daily News, Website
The pursuit of The Inquirer, Philadelphia Daily News, and Philly.com began in October with an unsolicited offer by two businessmen with South Jersey roots, Lewis Katz and George E. Norcross III.
It ended Monday with Katz, Norcross, and four other local investors paying $55 million to acquire the daily newspapers and their related website from the hedge funds and financial firms that had owned them since they emerged from bankruptcy in 2010.
But in between, this latest sale of the media properties – their fourth in six years – would involve a former Pennsylvania governor, frustrate some potential suitors who felt excluded from the process, see top company executives pull or alter stories about the sale that had appeared on Philly.com, and prompt readers and others to wonder what a change in ownership would mean for them.
Led by Katz, 70, and Norcross, 56, the group purchased Philadelphia Media Network (PMN) for a fraction of the $515 million paid in 2006 by a previous local investor group. But the challenges they face remain substantial. Advertising revenues have fallen by 50 percent in six years, and on their first day, none of the new owners offered easy remedies.
“We have every confidence in the world, and have invested tens of millions of dollars in our belief that we are going to make this successful and do things that people said couldn’t be done,” Norcross said in an interview.
Besides Katz and Norcross, the new owners include philanthropist H.F. “Gerry” Lenfest, 81; Holtec International Corp. chief executive officer Krishna P. “Kris” Singh, 64; Liberty Property Trust CEO William P. Hankowsky, 61; and Joseph Buckelew, 81, chairman of Conner Strong Buckelew, an insurance and employee-benefits firm based in Marlton of which Norcross is executive chairman.
In an interview and during a news conference Monday, Katz, Norcross, and Hankowsky stressed that they do not intend to interfere with news gathering and would sign a pledge to affirm that. “We do not want to run the newspapers,” Katz said. “We want to merely own them for the benefit of our community. We recognize the trust, the public trust.”