Philly Papers Will Be New Version of Poynter/'St. Pete Times'

By: Joe Strupp Brian Tierney, who is juggling bankruptcy planning, union relations, and an uncertain newspaper economy as the CEO of Philadelphia Media Holdings, sees the future of his two daily papers as akin to a Poynter Institute-St. Petersburg Times formula.

Tierney points to the latest investment group, led by housing builder Bruce Toll, which plans to invest $35 million to help restructure the company's bankruptcy debt. He says that plan, one of many discussed in court this week, would leave the paper in a situation similar to the St. Petersburg Times and Poynter in that the investors would not seek an immediate or regular profit from the newspapers.

"I think we are going to be as close to a 2009 version of the Poynter experiment as possible," Tierney said. "I look at Poynter as a plan that has a mission. The fact that these people are willing to step up is great."

He also contends he has no regrets about the investment he led three year ago to take over the Philadelphia Inquirer and Philadelphia Daily News, stating the bankruptcy problems, ad and circulation revenue declines of the industry, and current bankruptcy do not diminish his goals.

"There have been a lot of challenges, but there are challenges in everything," Tierney told E&P Thursday, two days after the latest bankruptcy hearing, which ended with PMH planning to submit its reorganization plan next week. "I am glad to play this role in this time in media history. I hope we are at the moment that we can look back at things 10 years from now and say local people stepped up, really stepped up."

Poynter, which owns the St. Petersburg Times, is a non-profit entity that takes about half of the profits from the Times, with the remaining half reinvested in the Times operation.

Tierney says his investors would have a similar emphasis on keeping the newspapers operational, despite no educational entity in which to direct profits. "They are looking at a long-term thing that their grandchildren will own," Tierney contends.

Tierney adds that he remains glad that he put some $10 million into the newspapers three years ago, stating: "I make less money now than I made for 25 years in the private sector. I feel kind of good that we have a terrific group of people, the papers are better, and we have people who want to put equity into the papers."

Recent bankruptcy court discussions have included the possibility that Tierney could be removed as CEO, something he does not expect: "With my investor group, I would expect to stay. I feel committed to it. Our performance has been incredible, we have carved $95 million out of the cost structure of the paper in the past three years."

Asked if both daily papers would remain for the long haul, Tierney said he hoped so. "If people are short-sided and short-term thinkers, they will see the mirage that you can make more money by shutting down the Daily News," he told E&P. "I think that is a mirage. It would be bad for the journalism and bad for the community."

Tierney also declined to note any mistakes in the way things have been handled since he led the $515 million purchase of the newspapers.

"It is not my style to be looking back," he declared. "When we bought it, it wasn't the highest bid for the papers. But given what has occurred, if we had paid $415 million instead of $515 million, we still would have had the same problems."


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