Friday, June 30, 2006

"Bringing Home the News"

With the documents signed and the $515 million wired, late last night at the suburban printing plant where, as a boy, I jogged laps on Saturday mornings, an investor flipped the switch and, for the first time in 36 years, the Philadelphia Inquirer and Daily News (the latter being God's favorite newspaper) were published under local ownership.

The sale of the Knight-Ridder flagship, first to McClatchy and then to the hometown-based Philadelphia Media Holdings, led by the former DEFCON 1 archdiocesan media operative Brian Tierney, has attracted mass interest in these parts and in the wider media world. Given the constraints placed upon newspapering by the rise of the internet and a diversified media market, it's safe to say that not only are the eyes of the church on Philadelphia these days....

"As of now, this great news organization is locally owned," Brian Tierney, chief executive officer of Philadelphia Media, said yesterday afternoon from a dais crowded with his fellow investors, to sustained applause from a group of newspaper managers and staff.

At 10 last night, Tierney and several of the investors threw a party - sandwiches and Tastykakes - at the Schuylkill Printing Plant near West Conshohocken, where investor Patricia Imbesi threw the copper switch to start the press run. They greeted workers and managers as they came on shift.

"We're going to show the world," Tierney told a group of pressmen and paper handlers. "This is going to be the best news organization in America. You don't have to worry about the corporate thing."

"Like with all new beginnings, I'm hoping we can move on and good things will happen," said Roger DeCicco, shop steward for Teamsters Local 169, which represents 24 newsprint handling workers. "I'm looking forward to working with the local guys."

Later, there were no speeches to hear over the din as Imbesi stood with Tierney and co-owners Leslie A. Brun and William A. Graham IV. As she threw the switch to start the papers winding rapidly along the overhead track system, a delegation of Mummers from the Hegeman String Band broke into "Alabama Jubilee."

"It's great. It's new life," said Phil DeFlorio, vice president of Teamsters Local 1414, which represents 500 mailers. Secretary-treasurer Mike Bernstein said he was looking forward to contract negotiations, which begin in two weeks.

Earlier, Natoli said the $5 million commitment for print, broadcast, cable, billboard and online ads compares with just "a few hundred thousand" yearly under previous ownership. In addition, a promotional campaign, including the slogan "Bringing Home the News," will feature "street teams" dressed as old-time newsboys at public gatherings, pro sports events, Shore boardwalks and Fourth of July parades.

Given Tierney's background -- he was made a Knight of St Gregory the Great in 1998 -- and the presence of McMansion magnate Bruce Toll as lead investor, one running laugh-line in the newsroom post-sale was the hypothesized daily headline: "Housing Market Booming, Cardinal Says." But the new CEO's faith is no laughing matter -- Tierney's involvement in Catholic causes moved his longtime assistant, Hilary Vadner, to be received into the church a few years back.

For my part, it's just nice to learn that someone else out there is as discombobulated in the organization department as I am.

Tierney on himself from an interview with God's favorite daily:

"My car's a mess. My closet's a mess. My desk is a mess.

"I'm the kind of guy, when I'm picking somebody up, I'll wind up getting a trash bag and putting six old days of newspapers in a bag and throwing it in the trunk, and if somebody says can I put something in your trunk, I'll say, 'Why don't we just put it in the back seat?' "

On a recent vacation, he left his wallet in a hotel in one town, his suit jacket in another, and a third possession somewhere else.

"There's always a lot of cleanup behind Brian," he said....
Ditto for Rock. And welcome to my dad's new bosses.

AP/H. Rumph Jr.