Many in the Inquirer newsroom blame Interstate General Media owner George Norcross, a powerful South Jersey political boss, for controversial changes made at the paper—most recently the firing of editor Bill Marimow.
After press time for this week's paper, City Paper obtained a copy of internal IGM communications, previously reported on by Philadelphia Magazine, that represent what Publisher Bob Hall describes in some detail as his cause to fire Marimow: Inquirer readership was down and that Marimow refused to implement " business decisions...made to revolutionize the newspaper." According to one Hall e-mail, readership is down 24 percent in the last year.
A note purportedly from owner Joseph Buckelew, who has long-standing business ties to co-owner George Norcross, cites Marimow's "failure to implement performance standards for employees, failure to implement performance evaluations and the failure to implement personnel actions."
Buckelew goes on to accuse co-owner Lewis Katz and City Editor Nancy Phillips, with whom Katz has a long-time personal relationship, of exercising "improper influence" over the paper—a sentiment that Hall echoes.
"Bill Marimow has implied many times that Lewis Katz will protect him," writes Hall.
Newsroom sources charge that it is Norcross who is exercising undue influence when it comes to Philly.com's growing power within the organization and the cut to the Inquirer's opinion pages.
In an e-mail to Hall, IGM Chairman Gerry Lenfest, who has stated he did not have prior knowledge of the decision, charges that Marimow should not have been fired without Katz's approval. But Hall and Buckelew contend that Lenfest supported Hall's threat to remove Marimow if he did not comply with directed reforms.
A seven-page email purportedly from Hall details the reforms that Marimow has allegedly resisted, including: front-loading in-house local coverage in the A section instead of wire copy; eliminating the position of Sunday editor, an assistant managing editor, another top editor, and other positions; and hiring four new Pennsylvania suburban reporters.
More controversial, however, is Hall's call for Marimow to "support [the] company's digital strategy for Philly.com and Inquirer.com. Take a lead role to eliminate unproductive comments and in-fighting with Philly.com staff. Foster a positive and collaborative dialogue." That strategy, which has raised the profile of Philly.com while placing the dailies behind two impenetrable paywalls, is widely perceived to be a failure for The Inquirer.
"Marimow has fought this initiative the entire way and constantly spends time challenging it. He has expressed to staff and others that he believes the strategy is wrong," Hall writes.
Hall writes that Marimow "followed through on most of the items" except for the "personnel changes," which he "refused to implement even after several discussions." Hall also accuses Katz of seeking to block the firing of two editors.
In addition, Hall blames Marimow for "the recent leaking of the false story that the current ownership directed the consolidation of the Op-Ed pages from two to one [which] is illustrative of the total loss of control and oversight that Marimow as editor is expected to exercise." City Paper reported that story based on interviews with multiple newsroom sources. According to Hall, "Marimow's senior editorial staff has sought to deflect blame from Marimow to ownership in what appears to be a perverse attempt to discredit and denigrate ownership and reverse the decision."
City Paper obtained these documents, published in part below, from a source close to the situation.
* An October 7, 2013 email from Gerry Lenfest to Bob Hall, copied to IGM's other owners: Lewis Katz, George Norcross, Bill Hankowsky, Kris Singh, and Joseph Buckelew.
This is in response to your email of today on the termination of Bill Marimow.
Your firing of Bill Marimow should not have taken place, in my opinion, without the approval of Lewis Katz. As you know, governance of IGM in the agreement is under a management committee consisting, with equal say, of Lewis Katz and George Norcross. Your decision to fire the head of the editorial department of the newspaper is a major business decision which should not have been taken without approval of both members of the Management Committee. This is a business decision of major impact and is not based on the editorial policies of the newspaper.
At the July 16 meeting, I tried to find time to bring Bill and you together in the hope that he would not be fired immediately as proposed in the earlier meeting by Norcross, Buckelew, Hankowsky and Singh, in which Katz was not present. It is apparent not all that you specified has been accomplished to your satisfaction, but whether or not there is cause for Bill's termination, it should have had the prior approval of both members of the Management Committee.
Marimow has many supporters in the region and his termination may well have serious and adverse repercussions for the newspaper.
* Bob Hall's October 7 response to Lenfest, also copied to other owners.
Thank you for your response but I am somewhat surprised after our telephone conversation this afternoon.
I would like to clarify my understandings. You and I have met on numerous occasions to discuss Bill Marimow's performance and each and every time you have told me that I had your full support in whatever decision I were to make. You, among all of the owners, are closest to the deficiencies in Marimow's performance. You were there with Mike Lorenca and me when we discussed the corrective action plan with Marimow. You specifically let Marimow know that his job was in jeopardy if he did not perform.
The fact of the matter is that Bill Marimow did not perform as we had expected. Readership continues to be down and Marimow was not acting with the dispatch that was needed to turn that around. The business decisions were made to revolutionize the newspaper but Marimow simply failed to follow those decisions. Frankly, that is why it is my decision to make as Publisher.
You have backed my authority up until now and I am surprised at your sudden turnabout. Each of the owners pledged not to interfere with the "editorial or journalistic policies and decisions of the Company." All of the owners, except one, have adhered to that pledge.
Frankly, it is disappointing that you now are taking a position contrary to that pledge. As you know, Marimow was terminated from the newspaper once before without major incident. I really do not believe there will be any repercussions the second time around.
* An email purportedly from owner Joseph Buckelew to co-owners. Date unknown.
To fellow shareholders/directors: At this point, I feel that it is necessary to set the record straight.
At our last partners' meeting before today, all shareholders/directors were present except for Lewis Katz and the following occurred. At that meeting, Bob Hall fully presented the instances of insubordination and nonperformance of duties by Bill Marimow. Specifically, we were presented with evidence of nonperformance of company initiatives, failure to implement performance standards for employees, failure to implement performance evaluations and the failure to implement personnel actions as directed by the Publisher and Associate Publisher as part of our approved business plan. Frankly, it was astounding to me to hear that the Editor would simply ignore the directives, particularly the implementation of performance standards and performance evaluations, two critical gains made in our negotiations with the Guild. It was crystal clear to me from that presentation that Marimow was arrogantly ignoring the directives given to him by Bob Hall and Mike Lorenca and instead following the improper influence of Lewis Katz and Nancy Phillips.
Let's be clear about this next point because there is no doubt about it in my mind. At the close of Bob Hall's presentation, Gerry Lenfest requested the opportunity to meet with Marimow with Hall and Lorenca to deliver the corrective action plan to Marimow and to make it clear to Marimow that his job would be in jeopardy if he failed to comply with the corrective action plan. Lenfest then said that he unequivocally supported the termination of Marimow by Bob Hall if Marimow failed to comply with the corrective action plan.
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