If you think The Kansas City Star is in trouble and is a shadow of what it used to be, let me tell you about a much larger city that has much worse problems with its metropolitan dailies.
The once-proud Philadelphia Inquirer and its sister tabloid, the Philadelphia Daily News, have been lurching from one owner to another the last eight years.
The ownership merry-go-round started in 2006, when the McClatchy Co. bought the Philadelphia papers, along with about 30 other Knight Ridder papers, including The Kansas City Star.
However, McClatchy promptly sold the Philadelphia papers and several other Knight Ridder properties it didn’t want.
Since then, The Inquirer and the Daily News have had five ownership changes, and another was in the works, after two warring groups of co-owners competed last week in a court-ordered auction for the right to buy out the other.
Two men named Lewis Katz and H.F “Gerry” Lenfest won with a bid of $88 million for the two papers…That was over and above the $55 million that the ownership group they were part of paid $55 million for the papers in 2012.
After last week’s auction, the future of The Inquirer, the Daily News and the papers’ Philly.com website looked brighter than it had in a long time. Katz, the newsroom favorite, was regarded as someone who wanted to steer the papers toward serious journalism. He had rehired a popular editor, whom one of his ownership partners, George Norcross, had fired.
Plus, Norcross, the leader of the competing ownership group, had come to be viewed as a proponent of National Enquirer-type journalism.
But then, shockingly, the 72-year-old Katz was killed Saturday night in the crash of a small plane in suburban Boston. Everyone on board — four passengers, two pilots and a cabin attendant — died.
The group was about to head back to Philadelphia after a short trip to the Boston area, but the private Gulfstream IV never got off the ground.
Instead of lifting off, the aircraft plowed along the ground for 2,000 feet beyond the paved surface of the runway, struck an antenna and crashed through a chain-link fence before stopping in a gully. It exploded in flames and essentially disintegrated.
William Marimow, the editor whose hide Katz had saved, said he learned about Katz’ death at 7 a.m. Sunday.
“Lewis, in my opinion, was really an extraordinary person,” Marimow said. “He loved journalism. He loved the Inquirer, and I think he really relished his ability to rub shoulders with editors and reporters and photographers. You could feel he genuinely liked being in the company of the newsroom…We are really, really going to miss him.”
Katz and made a fortune in the parking lot business and went on to own basketball’s New Jersey Nets and hockey’s New Jersey Devils.
And so The Inquirer — which was owned by the legendary Walter Annenberg for many years and which won seventeen Pulitzer between 1975 and 1980 — has once again been flung onto the shores of uncertainty.
So, Kansas Citians, we can at least be grateful that although McClatchy overpaid badly for the Knight Ridder papers in 2006, ownership of The Star has been stable. In addition, Editor Mike Fannin recently told the members of the Forty Years Ago Column Club that both McClatchy and The Star are now profitable.
The Star might be thin and light, but at least it’s stable, thank God.
My friend Jason Schneider, a frequent commenter, sent along this photo on Monday, with this comment: “The Star is in trouble.”
He took the photo outside an office building at 45th Street and Belleview Avenue.