What Ralph Got Right, What Norcross Still Has Wrong

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Although he’s done it almost in spite of himself, Ralph Cipriano raises some good questions about walls between the newsroom of The Philadelphia Inquirer and the “good guy” owners who have supported editorial integrity.

BigTrial.net finds owner Lewis Katz in the newsroom regularly, a failure of reporters to identify Katz-type projects in some stories, and a (seemingly slight) but real case of obit influencing.  (see Newsroom Meddling )

Katz, who has supported editorial integrity, should stay out of the newsroom and news meetings. Reporters should mention him when appropriate in news stories.  Obit writers should not have owner approved obits (but in my career as an obit taker, I got so many of those from funeral directors, it’s hard for me to take this one quite with the same gravitas. You just ignore the damned things. )

Ralph rightly called me out for not acknowledging some of these points, and I’ll concede he was right.  Those aren’t good developments and if I ignore them, I’m no better than… well, no better than other blogs that state one side of an issue and ignore the other.

Those nuggets of truth in Big Trial are sometimes hard to find because of Ralph’s other tendencies to as he put it present an “avalanche of facts” and commentary.  So with the real issues, come suggestions that the applause that greeted Bill Marimow when he returned to the newsroom was somehow faked because they feared for his job.

Anyone who has worked in a newsroom knows how preposterous such a suggestion is.  Anyone who knows Marimow knows how silly it is to think he would be “taking names.”

So, Katz is imperfect.  Marimow, too, may be making the best of an imperfect word. Granted and all granted again.  No struggle for integrity is easy, simple or straightforward.  My hope is these are wind bumps on a glide path that gets Bill where he wants to be.

That said, let’s get back to the real narrative of the controversy here.

Bill Marimow, an editor of unquestioned skill and ethics, was fired by Publisher Bob Hall and owner George Norcross when Marimow would not fire top editors.

Nearly everyone can trace this development directly to Lexie Norcross, the inexperienced exec who runs Philly.com, and her conflicts with the Bill and the editors.

A court ordered that Marimow be reinstated.  Norcross appealed and the two sides are battling it out in court – and in blogs, where the Norcross attorneys and sources have slimed Marimow pretty thoroughly with leaks of confidential memos.

Here though is the real challenge to the future of The Inquirer.  Will Lexie and George Norcross continue to run the web operation – which arguably is the worst mash up of web approaches in the world. (A three-ring web circus with one free site and two paid sites.)  Or will some professionals take control of it before it is too late.

The personal politics of it – giving the web to Lexie – already may have cost the paper dearly.  George Norcross says proudly that the web offensive is based on Boston.com and Boston.Globe.com where the newspaper runs a low rent and high rent site strategy.

But that approach has proved disastrous in Boston.  Free readers have dropped and paid circulation has been slow.   On the other hand, a NY Times approach of metered free access feeding to the paid site has been successful.

George seems oblivious of that and boasted in one publication that the Inkie would develop Philly.com as a regional Huffington Post.

There is no better reply to that than the website Philly.com the other day where a blank space appeared that said, “advertise here.”  That means that even wholesale “belly fat” advertisers don’t even send their steerage rate ad cargo to Philly.com.

Ironically, Marimow and the senior editors he was supposed to fire, have been good for business, with nearly a nine percent bump in paid paper circulation.

Norcross, during the same time period, lost web circulation and revenue.

The Philadelphia Inquirer now has one of the best professional newspapers editors at its helm.

Perhaps it should have a great professional as the COO of Philly.com as well.


  1. Bob, I hate to be the bearer of bad news, but that “spontaneous” standing O for Marimow may not have been so spontaneous. I was told a certain city editor walked around the newsroom before Mr. Marimow arrived, telling staffers to stand up and applaud. Some didn’t take it too kindly. Ask around, and see what you hear.

    I also think that the staff may not be as supportive of Marimow as you are. As one reporter I know told me when Bill was hired again, “We’ve already seen this movie; we know how it ends.” I think you’re missing the boat there.

    I’d like to clear up your wrongful impressions about my motives. Contrary to what you’re saying, I don’t have an axe to grind against the Inquirer. I won my battle, and the people I quarreled with there are long gone. I do think the paper is doing a lousy job covering one of the most corrupt cities in North America. As a resident of the city, that’s my beef. But it kind of hard to cover corrupt politicians aggressively when the Democratic party basically has bought the newspaper, wouldn’t you agree?

    I applaud you for conceding that Mr. Katz should stay out of news meetings, and out of the newsroom in general. But let me bring up some more unpleasant topics that I have laid out in my “avalanche of facts” published on bigtrial.net. In the first story I did about the Inquirer, I wrote about how Marimow’s lame City Hall bureau didn’t have the will power to write about the DROP, the city’s notorious billion dollar giveaway, even when Bill told them to do it, and even when they were handed a road map:


    As a former City Hall guy, that OK with you? I also wrote about how the Inky didn’t report the true investments and losses of the carpenters union back when those guys owned the paper, even though the truth was laid out in public documents. That OK with you? Marimow was the head guy when that went down; it happened on his watch. Are you going to make excuses for him on that score too?

    What about Brian Tierney getting a $300,000 golden parachute to depart as Inky publisher, a bonus laid out in public documents. That wasn’t reported either; that OK with you as well?

    I laid out a disturbing pattern in that same story with the new AVI assessments; some people in fringe neighborhoods got clobbered; other rich folks got their assessments lowered. The Inky City Hall bureau didn’t want to poke around in that mess either. That OK with you?

    On the witness stand, Nancy Philips described how she cooked up an “official story” to say that Marimow was hired by Osberg, even though Osberg made it clear he didn’t want Bill and wouldn’t have hired him. Osberg under a subpoena testified the hiring of Bill was orchestrated by Nancy, on behalf of Katz. They used the news columns to spin that story. That OK with you as well? Or would you only be upset if Norcross was doing it?

    How bout Bill going along with a phony cover story about who really hired him, to keep Nancy’s boyfriend Katz out of the spotlight. That OK with you?

    How about Nancy functioning as a corporate head hunter and bringing back Brian Tierney, the guy a lot of people at the paper blame for bankrupting the place and screwing over the Guild pension fund, to the tune of $50 million. That OK with you? Bringing Tierney back and paying him $87,000 over four months and getting zero back in return, that OK with you as well?

    How about Katz still saying he wants to rehire Tierney, even when the evidence is in that his consultant’s contract was a loser for the paper, that OK as well?

    I’ve got to say I’m disappointed in Katz; I thought he was more enlightened. I will tell you I have printed every shred of alleged meddling by Norcross and his daughter that came out during those court proceedings. Remember, Norcross wasn’t even called as a witness, so it kind of makes it a one-sided story. Why wasn’t he called, by the way?

    I noted the presence of Jay Devine at the hearings as a PR guy representing the Marimow gang. I think every reporter in town has figured out what team Norcross was up to during those court hearings, namely kicking the crap out of the Katz team like it was a political campaign. I have no idea what Devine was accomplishing on behalf of team Katz.

    I know some people on the other side of this battle. Trust me, I am an equal opportunity offender. If there’s any stuff to be had on the other side of this, I can be reached at ralph@bigtrial.net. This is an offer I have made repeatedly, in and out of the courtroom, and this is not the first time I’ve made this offer in print. But from what I saw at the hearings, nobody on the other side is talking to the media. And they don’t have anything to share. Did they all forget they were reporters when they were in the presence of Mr. Norcross?

    How about a newspaper sending out a message telling all of its employees not to talk if an outside reporter calls? That OK with you as well?

    1. Ralph–I’ve never been satisfied with any editors anywhere. Not sure our disatisfaction is a scandal though. If your point is that Bill and the Inky are imperfect, it belabors the ibvious. My question remains why you arenot pursuing Lexie and the Ludicrous Website. You know agressive coverage is dependent on digging–not leaks. Go after it.
      As to what you’ve revealed here, I’ve said it’s worth noting. It feels more scandalous than substantive though compared to Norcross and Hall’s acts of commission. Hey, maybe it’s just me but it seems like you’ve hit a few capillaries and yelled, Blood!!!!
      Good to hear you have no grudge. I fear I would.

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