NEWSBUSTERS: We all wondered if it would happen. NB readers said it would very soon. NB author Tom Blumer even predicted this would be the year for it. Now the largest newspaper in Philadelphia is requesting a bailout. In a perfectly ironic fashion it took a lawsuit for the public to learn that the Philadelphia Inquirer is seeking $10 million dollars from the state of Pennsylvania. The bailout request was revealed after the school filed suit against the paper for a series of articles questioning the school’s use of government funds.Now, according to an interview between the Philadelphia Bulletin and Pennsylvania Governor Democrat Ed Rendell’s press secretary, there is little doubt that the Philadelphia Inquirer is indeed requesting a $10 million bailout. The request comes at a time of great financial trouble for the owner of the Philadelphia Inquirer, Philadelphia Media Holdings. The company has been missing its debt payments since June and is in “technical default” according to the Bulletin. MORE
INQUIRER EDITORIAL: Everyone, it seems, is looking for a bailout. Many leading financial firms have already received billions from the federal government, and some are already back for a second helping. Likewise, many states and cities are counting on stimulus funds from the feds to help balance their budgets. So let’s remember that with any and all of the recommendations for the latest $825 billion stimulus package – whether it’s the increased spending favored by Democrats or the tax cuts preferred by Republicans – the money is all borrowed and will have to be paid back by taxpayers. That’s why it is best to make sure the money is properly spent and not earmarked for a wish list of pet projects by a long line of pols. [...] The wish list for some of the stimulus funds seems dubious at best. For example, should stimulus spending include hundreds of millions for contraceptives, or for new grass on the Washington Mall, or billions to revamp federal offices? Any stimulus spending should go to create jobs or to provide assistance for those hurt by the recession. Earmarking funds for dubious pet projects has no place, especially when resources are so limited. It’s incumbent upon the Obama administration and Congress to ensure that the taxpayers get the best bang for their bailout bucks. MORE
RELATED: Amidst parent Tribune Co.’s struggle to emerge from bankruptcy protection, the Los Angeles Times said Friday it is cutting 300 positions and will shrink the number of daily sections to four from five. The paper’s publisher, Eddy Hartenstein, informed staff in a memo on Friday, explaining the cuts “are designed to help us deal with the economic realities of the day.” MORE
MRBIGGLESWORTHLOVESYOU: Earlier this week Village Voice Media suspended publication of all its comic strips across its entire chain of alternative weekly papers in a cost-cutting move. Let me restate this so the significance sinks in: Village Voice Media suspended publication of ALL its comic strip across its ENTIRE CHAIN of alternative weekly papers. For those who don’t know, Village Voice Media owns fifteen papers in key cities like New York and LA and is a huge component of the alternative comic strip lifeblood. With roughly one hundred thirty alternative weekly papers in the USA, shutting out fifteen papers accounts for a drop in 12% of the print outlets alternative comic artists can see their work published. This is a huge blow to the alternative comics industry. In addition, across the board, the other 88% of papers have been cutting comics in hopes of staying afloat in the tough economic times. On top of the loss of these fifteen papers, a lot of the cartoonists who were syndicated by them have already, or soon will, lose outlets in the one hundred other non VVM-owned papers. This is a big deal. MORE
PHILLY MAG: [Brian] Tierney offered himself up as The Man Who Would Save Philadelphia’s Newspapers at a tumultuous time. In the years just before he purchased the Inquirer and Daily News, frequent cost-cutting had become the industry norm. Employees, mostly reporters, were shed like unwanted fat. Revenue was in free fall. Philadelphia’s papers earned the Knight-Ridder chain a $100 million profit in 2004 but only $76 million in 2005, and were on course for just $50 million when Tierney purchased them the next year. But Tierney is a former advertising and public relations executive, and words like “decline” and “fall” aren’t part of his vocabulary. And so the savior walked into the Inquirer building speaking not of retrenchment, but of expansion. He said local ownership would provide an antidote to the toxic requirements of Wall Street, which demanded ever-increasing profits. And when he first took to a podium in the Inquirer building, he made a particularly grand promise: “The Next Great Era in Philadelphia Journalism,” he said, “begins today.” Legacy time.
Now, less than three years later, it’s all gone to hell. Circulation has fallen. In early 2008, Tierney warned union representatives of “a dire situation” if costs weren’t cut by 10 percent. The papers have slashed more than 400 staff members across all departments since he took over. According to Newspaper Guild representative Bill Ross, Tierney once shook up a management meeting by barking “I will not lose my fucking house over this!” And Ross says a couple of people emerged from a private meeting with the CEO claiming that he’d spoken to them, in his 12th-floor office, with a baseball bat in his hands. Ross also adds that in January, Tierney took to patrolling the parking garage, watching to see what time employees were arriving to work and asking managers about those who were late. “That’s what I’m getting calls about now,” says Ross. “He’s walking around the parking garage. If he gets hit by a car, it’ll be his own fault.” Tierney’s ownership group, Philadelphia Media Holdings, stopped making interest payments to its creditors over the summer. Thirty-five further editorial layoffs were announced in December. No one knows what tomorrow will bring — except that some tomorrow could mark the end of Philadelphia’s newspapers. MORE