- The Washington Times - Friday, May 26, 2006

PHILADELPHIA — He has berated reporters and clashed with editors over stories that were damaging to his public relations clients.

His friends call him intense, a perfectionist who demands the best from everyone around him. He famously railed at the Philadelphia Inquirer’s editors to kill an article critical of the Archdiocese of Philadelphia’s spending on a summer house while it was closing churches and schools.

Now, Brian Tierney, the 49-year-old incoming chief executive of the Inquirer and the Philadelphia Daily News, will be calling the shots for his one-time adversary.

And that’s just fine with him. Mr. Tierney said he should be judged on the totality of his work in PR and advertising, not just on a “handful” of controversial issues. What’s more, he said he can channel his passion and zeal into improving the two flagging newspapers.

“I’m going to make sure that every person in this region would buy the Philadelphia Inquirer and the Philadelphia Daily News,” Mr. Tierney said in an interview. “I’m going to put that passion into helping my advertising clients grow their business. We can grow our business and they can grow their business.”

Journalists remain wary, but realize they have no choice but to hope for the best.

“A lot of people were extremely alarmed by it,” said Henry Holcomb, president of the Newspaper Guild of Greater Philadelphia.

“He was very good at advocating for his clients, and in some cases people felt like he was a little over the top in his aggressiveness.”

But the staff is “willing to give them a shot,” he said. “I certainly am.”

On Tuesday, a group led by Mr. Tierney and Bruce Toll, co-founder of luxury home builder Toll Brothers Inc., won the bidding for the two papers.

The group, Philadelphia Media Holdings LLC, will pay McClatchy Co. $515 million in cash and assume $47 million in pension liabilities.

McClatchy is selling 12 newspapers as part of its acquisition of Knight Ridder Inc., the former parent of the two Philadelphia dailies.

Both transactions are expected to close sometime in the summer.

Mike Hagan, chief executive of NutriSystem Inc. and one of the investors, said Mr. Tierney will bring “vision and optimism” to the papers. Mr. Tierney sits on the board of NutriSystem.

For one, Mr. Tierney doesn’t believe the doom-and-gloom projections about the newspaper industry.

“I reject the idea that they’re in an inevitable decline,” Mr. Tierney said.

“Print is so important to people’s lives. People do read and you just have to be relevant to them.”

But the acquisition is not merely a routine business transaction; it is also emotional.

“When you walk through the doors and realize this is the third-oldest newspaper in the country and the critical role it plays as a watchdog for the community … you feel a real sense of emotion,” said Mr. Tierney, who brought along a pocket watch given to him by his parents when he was 16 to the newspapers’ headquarters on Tuesday when his group’s acquisition was formally announced.

The Republican activist knows reviving the papers won’t be a cakewalk, but then overcoming adversity isn’t new to the Tierney family.

Raised in the working-class neighborhood of Upper Darby, a suburb of Philadelphia, Mr. Tierney didn’t have it easy. His father worked three jobs to support the family.

“He worked at a deli, drove a taxi and tended bar at the same time,” Mr. Tierney said.

Mr. Tierney attended the University of Pennsylvania and got a law degree from Widener University.

In 1989, he formed the Tierney Group, a public relations firm. Five years later, he formed an ad agency called Tierney and Partners.

He sold the ad agency and his stake in the PR company in 1998 to True North Communications. Interpublic Group of Cos. bought True North in 2001.

Mary Austen, the president of Tierney Communications and someone who had been with Mr. Tierney since the start of his firm, said her former colleague will look out for the papers as fiercely as he protected his clients.

“He was absolutely an aggressive advocate for his client. That was his job; that was his role,” she said.

“I suspect he will do the same thing on the other side, which is protecting the paper.”

Monica Yant Kinney, the Inquirer’s New Jersey columnist, said she is heartened by the new owners’ pledge to invest in the business instead of planning more cuts.

“There’s a great reason to be cautiously optimistic about anyone who is pledging to spend money to invest in this product. It’s been ages since anyone has said anything like that,” she said.

But she’s uncertain how the new owners, who are major players in Philadelphia with important friends, would react once a story critical of them is published.

“No one puts their millions of dollars in expecting to be aggravated or humiliated,” she said.

“If we do our job, we would make some of these investors and their friends very, very angry.”

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