Jim Romenesko pointed to a story yesterday by a former Philadelphia Inquirer reporter about the possible sale of the Philadelphia newspapers to a group including Ed Rendell, former governor of Pennsylvania. Paul Davies writes: In short, you can’t have a former mayor, governor and head of the Democratic National Committee involved in a legitimate newspaper—especially one with such deep ties to some of the region’s most powerful and influential institutions such as the University of Pennsylvania, Ballard Spahr and Comcast, where Rendell’s friend and former chief of staff David L. Cohen still casts a long shadow.
It reminded me of a few years ago when the News & Record was actively on the selling block. I heard persistent rumors of that two separate groups, both headed by wealthy, influential community leaders were considering buying the paper. I won’t name them because I have no direct knowledge that the rumors were anything more than rumors. But I dreaded the possibility of either owning the paper for the same reason Davies warns — the loss of editorial independence.
I knew one of the rumored buyers well because he frequently called to note what he considered oversights the newspaper made in covering important, positive community events. Events, by the way, in which he had a direct hand in. I didn’t know the other buyer personally, but I heard that he was interested in beefing up our positive coverage of the business community and sporting events. He was involved in both of those areas.
In the rosy memories of many, local ownership is a wonderful thing. The owner cares about the health of both the newspaper and the community. But the only way that benefits both is if the owner understands that his allegiance is to independent journalism first.