- The Washington Times - Monday, May 22, 2006

PHILADELPHIA (AP) — A group of local investors that wants to make the Philadelphia Inquirer a more local newspaper and expand its online presence is close to a deal to buy the Inquirer and its sister newspaper, according to a person close to the negotiations.

The Inquirer and the Philadelphia Daily News are among 12 Knight Ridder newspapers that the McClatchy Co. has decided to sell since its acquisition of Knight Ridder Inc.

The front-runner to buy the papers is a group headed by Brian Tierney, a public relations executive, and Bruce Toll, co-founder of Toll Brothers Inc., the luxury home builder.

A deal, pegged at more than $500 million could be completed within days, the person close to the negotiations said yesterday afternoon. The source, who did not want to be identified because the sale was not complete, said the buyer has no plans to shutter the Daily News.

A spokeswoman from McClatchy declined to comment.

In an interview with the Associated Press in late March, Mr. Toll said his goals would include adding more local content and getting news out faster on the Inquirer Web site.

In stressing the need to add local content, he said: “I know more about New York from reading the New York Times than about Philadelphia from reading the Inquirer.” His investment would not involve Toll Bros.

MediaNews Group Inc., led by William Dean Singleton, had offered last month to pay as much as $575 million for the two papers, the Inquirer reported.

Mr. Tierney’s public relations clients include the Philadelphia Archdiocese, which the newspapers bumped heads with during the Catholic priest sex-abuse scandal.

The Inquirer is the nation’s 17th-largest daily newspaper, based on circulation, but its circulation is dropping, mirroring a national trend. In the six-month period ending in March, the Inquirer’s weekday circulation was nearly 350,500, down 5 percent from a year earlier, according to the Audit Bureau of Circulations.

The papers’ combined circulation in September was down 30 percent from its peak in the 1980s.

The Philadelphia newspapers and the Wall Street Journal were first to report a deal was imminent after weekend negotiations.

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