- The Washington Times - Monday, April 2, 2012

Philadelphia’s two largest newspapers were sold Monday for the fourth time in six years, this time for about $55 million to a group of investors led by New Jersey Democratic Party boss George E. Norcross III.

Philadelphia Media Network Inc., parent company of the Inquirer, the Daily News and Philly.com, was sold to Mr. Norcross, former New Jersey Nets owner Lewis Katz and others for less than half its 2010 bankruptcy sales price and barely more than 10 percent of what it was worth six years ago.

The new owners signed a statement prepared by the company’s top editors pledging not to interfere with the news and editorial operations.

Former Pennsylvania Gov. Edward G. Rendell, who chaired the Democratic National Committee in the 1990s, initially was part of the investor group but bowed out. Some observers, and journalists at the newspapers, have expressed concern that having prominent Democrats in control of the papers could compromise their integrity.

Mr. Norcross, 56, an insurance executive in Cherry Hill, N.J., doesn’t hold an official position in the Democratic Party, but wields extensive influence in New Jersey politics.

Democrats and Republicans alike say Mr. Norcross calls the shots in southern New Jersey, marshaling financial and party support for Democratic candidates for federal, state and local offices. His brother, Donald, is a Democratic state senator who led the state AFL-CIO.

Joining Mr. Norcross and Mr. Katz in the new ownership group are philanthropist H.F. “Gerry” Lenfest, who made his fortune in cable television, and three other prominent local businessmen.

The newspapers and website were sold by private-equity funds Alden Global Capital and Angelo Gordon, which acquired them out of bankruptcy in 2010 for $139 million. The new owners said they intend to keep the current management team led by CEO Gregory Osberg.

In 2006, the papers were purchased from McClatchy Co. by a group of local investors led by advertising executive Brian Tierney for $515 million, all but $150 million of it borrowed. Within three years of taking over, Mr. Tierney was failing to make interest payments, leading to the bankruptcy proceedings.

Prior to McClatchy’s brief ownership, the Inquirer and Daily News were owned by Knight-Ridder Inc. That newspaper chain put itself up for sale in 2006.

In November, the company announced it was selling the newspapers’ iconic headquarters on North Broad Street for $22 million to a real-estate developer. The newspaper offices are relocating this year to a former department store in Center City.

Philadelphia Media Network management has reduced the size of the workforce several times, including a cutback of 27 employees last fall. An additional 22 employees were approved for voluntary buyouts last month.