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From AJR,   April/May 2012  issue

Good News for the Philadelphia Papers   

The top executive who embarrassed them over coverage of their pending sale earlier this year is out. Fri., May 11, 2012.


By Rem Rieder
Rem Rieder (rrieder@ajr.umd.edu) is AJR's editor and senior vice president.      

If any institutions are in desperate need of good news, it's the beleaguered Philadelphia Inquirer and Daily News.

Today they got some.

Gregory J. Osberg, publisher and CEO of Philadelphia Media Network, which owns the papers and Philly.com, is out.

Osberg earned no fans in the journalism community earlier this year when he intervened in the paper's coverage of its own sale. He embarrassed himself big-time when he repeatedly denied to the New York Times that he had told editors he had to see all stories about the pending sale before they appeared, then was forced to acknowledge that he had convened a meeting on that very subject.

The papers were recently sold to a group of local business people and powerbrokers, their fifth set of owners in six years. Many media critics have expressed fear about the ramifications of powerful newsmakers owning the outfits that cover them. The dailies have endured years of financial reversals and debilitating staff cuts. They are moving out of their iconic building to a former department store.

The future certainly remains extremely challenging. But it's at least a little better to face it without a tarnished leader. Maybe the Pulitzer the Inquirer won last month for public service meant the beginning of better times.

In another good sign, the new owners have brought back Bill Marimow as the Inquirer's top editor. Marimow, a Pulitzer-winning investigative reporter during the Inquirer's glory days under Gene Roberts, had been demoted by Osberg from editor to reporter, on the grounds that he just wasn't digital enough to lead a newsroom in the digital era. He left the paper and was teaching journalism at Arizona State when the new owners restored him to the throne.

In another back-to-the-future touch, Osberg will be succeeded by Bob Hall, who was publisher of the Inquirer from 1990 to 2003. He has been PMN's chief operating officer since 2010.

Osberg isn't going anywhere, at least not yet. He said in a statement that he will be advising Hall and the owners about digital strategy and advertising sales.