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Philly Newspaper Sale Worries Minorities

 

With the Philadelphia Inquirer and the Philadelphia Daily News auctioned on Wednesday to creditors, the future of the Daily News, the afternoon tabloid, and diversity efforts were among staffers' concerns as the papers transition to new ownership.

"A marathon auction for Philadelphia's two daily newspapers came to an end Wednesday afternoon, after taking tumultuous twists and turns," as the Associated Press reported Wednesday from New York.

"In the end, the creditors placed the winning bid at a deal worth nearly $139 million, beating out Philadelphia-area philanthropists who joined forces to fight them in the bankruptcy bidding war, Brian P. Tierney, CEO of Philadelphia Newspapers L.L.C. announced."

"We didn't make it," Tierney said in a quote posted on the newspapers' website, philly.com. "I think I'll go home tonight and sleep like a baby, which means I'll wake up every hour crying."

The sale is contingent on a successful confirmation hearing in bankruptcy court on May 25.

Regina Medina, a Daily News reporter who has been active in the National Association of Hispanic Journalists, told Journal-isms that many staffers wondered what the new owners would do with the Daily News. However, Medina said, she was not, because "the Daily News has a loyalty that's very fierce. I think people hug the Daily News like a person."

Her confidence appeared to be justified.

"Robert J. Hall, an adviser to the creditors' committee who served as publisher of The Inquirer and Daily News for 13 years until he retired in 2003, said he will be chief operating officer under the new ownership," Christopher K. Hepp and Harold Brubaker reported for the Inquirer.

"He said that the company would hire a new chief executive officer and publisher, and that the new owners had someone in mind.

"Hall said the Daily News, which two weeks ago won a Pulitzer Prize for investigative reporting, would remain in operation. 'The Daily News is a very important part of this organization,' he said.

"But Hall noted that there would have to be concessions made on the part of the publishing company's unions."

Deirdre M. Childress, editor of the Home & Design section at the Inquirer and vice president/print of the National Association of Black Journalists, noted that for journalists of color, diversity is a key issue. "It's an excellent time for the Newspaper Guild, for diversity to be a part of the contract as well as seniority," she said.

When the Inquirer cut back its staff in 2007, NABJ said it was "dismayed that black journalists at The Philadelphia Inquirer were twice as likely to be laid off as their white counterparts, according to reports today. . . . Early reports indicate that as many as 14-16 black journalists were among those laid off, or as much as 22.5 percent of the overall layoffs.

Some decisions were reversed, but staffers have said that although there are news managers of color at both papers, including Daily News Editor Michael Days and Inquirer Editorial Page Editor Harold Jackson, diversity is in retrenchment.

The Inquirer reported 14.8 percent journalists of color in the 2009 survey of the American Society of News Editors; the Daily News reported 19.8 percent.

In a message to members of the Newspaper Guild of Greater Philadelphia/CWA Local 38010, Dan Gross, president, and Bill Ross, executive director, said, "Guild leaders who attended the auction spoke with agents for the lending group, including longtime Philadelphia Newspapers Publisher Bob Hall, about our desire to promptly begin bargaining a fair contract for our members. We anticipate Mr. Hall to take a lead role in our contract talks to begin in a few weeks and ask the members to please stay calm, stay strong and stay focused, as we approach contract negotiations."

Asked whether diversity would be among the contract topics, Gross told Journal-isms, "We have a number of issues we expect to get into at the bargaining table but don't intend to negotiate through the media just yet."

The AP said, "According to Hall, creditors during the auction dropped a plan to fire all 4,500 full- and part-time employees before rehiring half or more. Company officials disclosed this week that the plan was part of the creditors' opening bid. The news prompted outrage, and talk of a strike, from members of the company's 14 labor unions.

" 'It was blown out of proportion,' Hall said, adding that any winning bidder would likely have to reduce staff given unrelenting industry woes. 'Every newspaper in the country is reducing operations.' "

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