PHILADELPHIA (AP) — The warring owners of Philadelphia's two major newspapers failed to negotiate Wednesday in their fight for control of the media company, leaving a judge to sort out the tawdry public feud.
Rival co-owners George Norcross and Lewis Katz are both rich, powerful and used to being in charge. Unless they find a way to work together, The Philadelphia Inquirer and Philadelphia Daily News could be sold for the sixth time in seven years.
Norcross is a Democratric powerbroker in southern New Jersey who built his wealth in the insurance industry. Katz made his fortune in parking lots, real estate and a stint owning the New Jersey Nets.
Each pledged not to meddle in the newsroom when they bought equal 26 percent stakes of the company last year, for $16 million apiece. Four others bought lesser stakes. But Katz and Norcross make up the two-man management committee that controls major decisions.
Katz sued last month, accusing Norcross of trampling his voting rights when Editor Bill Marimow was fired. Katz supports Marimow.
In the Norcross camp, 26-year-old Lexie Norcross became a company executive after her father and the others took over in April 2012. She was put in charge of Philly.com, the company's highly visible — and strategically vital — news website.
Marimow testified that he was fired last month after refusing to terminate five senior editors. The hit list included a Pulitzer Prize winner and, later, city editor Nancy Phillips, a top investigative reporter for much of her 30-year Inquirer career.
The company's amiable board chairman, philanthropist H.F. "Gerry" Lenfest, said he invested $10 million as a civic gesture, only to watch Norcross wrest control of decisions large and small since April 2012.
"Everything is really done (under) the direction of Norcross," he testified last week.
Norcross was expected to testify Wednesday, but his side instead rested, and the parties agreed to try to negotiate.
Lenfest has joined Katz in the lawsuit, which seeks to return Marimow as editor and oust Publisher Bob Hall, who had fired him. Katz maintains that Hall's contract — which pays him as much as $1 million a year, including bonuses — has expired.
Common Pleas Judge Patricia McInerney failed to buy that argument, at least in the short term, but has not ruled on the Marimow issue.
Newsroom employees — including editors, reporters and photographers — have endured pay cuts, annual two-week furloughs and staff reductions as a series of owners have tried to turn the company around.
The company's value has dropped from $515 million in 2006 to $139 million in a 2010 bankruptcy auction to $55 million last year.