This is all very inside baseball, but we were all taken out to the ballpark some time ago, we’ve all got skin in the game now so it’s too late to say you don’t care who wins. If you have been paying attention in the last day or two, you know the following: The Philadelphia Media Network — the company that owns the Inquirer, Daily News and Philly.com — is looking to sell. There are two primary investor groups that have expressed interest. One group is led by ex-Guv Ed Rendell, and the other led by developer Bart Blatstein, the man who almost single-handedly re-invented Northern Liberties. The Inquirer/Philly.com reported on the Rendell bid last week. (Curiously, a paragraph in that story quoting an industry expert putting the papers’ valuation at around half of the $100 million* asking price has since been mysteriously deleted from the online version.) But when Daily News reporter Dave Gambacorta wrote a post about the Blatstein bid on the DN’s Philly Clout blog, it was spiked within hours without explanation. There has been open speculation that PMN would prefer to sell to Rendell, hence the quashing of any news about the Blatstein bid. Romanesko, as he is wont to do, caught wind of this and then Newsworks Dave Davies got in the game. Eventually Philadelphia Media Network vice president for external relations Mark Block took the blame for spiking the Blatstein bid blog post, but we have it good authority that he is merely covering for his boss, PMN CEO Greg Osberg. Reliable sources tell us that Osberg led a long, tense closed door meeting with top editors from the Inquirer, Daily News and Philly.com. Reportedly, Osberg wanted the Blatstein bid blog post to simply disappear, while editors tried to explain that it just doesn’t work like that, that the paper’s credibility is its brand and, after selling off 400 North Broad Street for $22 million earlier this year, its most valuable remaining asset. Apparently Osberg won, because the post was spiked and replaced with an official company statement saying that PMN was not engaged in talks with the Blatstein group to buy the paper. When Poynter and other media watchdogs came sniffing for the back story to this tempest in the Philly media tea pot, Mark Block took the bullet for his boss, which would be touching if the whole thing wasn’t so ineptly handled. As we learned with Watergate, the cover up is often worse than the crime, and from a P.R. perspective this is an unmitigated disaster: far more people are now talking about a story PMN didn’t want told than would have if they just let Gambacorta’s post lay and moved on with the sale, letting the chips fall where they may. And we’d all live happier ever after if PMN had just followed the golden rule they teach in Sunday schools and journalism schools across the nation: honesty is always the best policy.
*In 2006, Brian Tierney paid $515 million for the Inquirer/Daily News/Philly.com, meaning that even by PMN’s rosiest estimates, the media properties have since lost an astonishing nine tenths of their value. Even worse, outside analysts say the PMN media properties are worth HALF of the one tenth of what it was worth five years ago. Yikes!