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Inquirer ownership shuffles, job changes, startups launch & close: 2014 in Philly media

The city’s hometown newspapers sold for the umpteenth time, and one co-owner died in a freak plane crash a week later. A local TV anchor made the leap to the Today show. Oh, and we were born! It’s been a wild ride in the Philly media sphere. Buckle up as we take the DeLorean down memory lane…

(Your disclosure paragraph: For three years, I worked as The Inquirer‘s executive editor, online; that was something like four ownership groups and two HQs ago, but many friends and colleagues remain there. And I know and like a bunch of folks working at many of the places written about herein.)

The Metro buys City Paper

One of the city’s two alt-weeklies was bought by one of the city’s two tabloid-sized daily papers on August 13. It was sort of the formalization of a sharing arrangement the papers already had — they’d been working from the same floor in Center City, separated by a row of filing cabinets. Once Metro bought City Paper, they just moved into one office — and shed a few more journalism jobs in a city that’s been bleeding those for years.

Axis Philly shuts down

Even a whopping $2.4 million grant from the William Penn foundation couldn’t get this dog to hunt: The nonprofit news site Axis Philly, eight months after winning a pretty big award from the Online News Association, was formally closed down in June of 2014. But the site’s end really came in July of last year. Temple University, whose j-school dean sat on the board of the site, said in a statement the site did good work — but published erratically, and never got traction: “AxisPhilly has been a worthy experiment and its staff has produced some remarkable work… But we and our funders are looking for new ways to have a positive impact on the local-news ecosystem in the region and to promote meaningful public-interest journalism,” said David Boardman, dean of the school’s School of Media and Communication.

LongFormPhilly.com launches

What if you could find the best longform journalism by Philly’s writers, all in one place? Metro Philly‘s Tommy Rowan made that dream come true this year, by launching LongformPhilly.com. The minimalist site points users toward pieces by Buzz Bissinger, Philly Mag‘s Robert Huber, Mark Bowden, The Inquirer‘s Dan Rubin and many more — definitely worth a bookmark.

Philadelphia Magazine (basically) brings down Bill Cosby

With one video — explained hereposted the afternoon of October 17, Philly Mag contributing editor Dan McQuade made the clip that set off the wave of attention to the sexual assault charges in comedian Bill Cosby’s past.

The Inquirer changes hands, again

It was a year of tumult for the region’s biggest news providers — the court papers listed the entity as Interstate General Media, but you know ’em best as The Inquirer, the Daily News and Philly.com. The ownership structure proved so dysfunctional that a judge re-instated Bill Marimow as Inquirer editor and forced the sale of the papers and the site in an English-style auction. Owners and local philanthropists Lewis Katz and Gerry Lenfest walked away with the papers, and George Norcross walked away with a tidy sum and dreams of digital moguldom (more on this later).

Then, shock: As his private plane was taking off from an airport near Boston in early June, it crashed — killing Katz just days after his side won the Inquirer/DN/P-com auction. Lenfest bought out Katz’s son Drew, and made some moves: He hired a new editor for Philly.com, and a new head of digital strategy, as well as someone to oversee audience development. And buyouts began as Lenfest told USA Today that he’s looking to renegotiate contracts with the ton of unions who are involved in nearly every facet of his new business — if he gets the outcome he wants, he’ll commit for another three years. Oh, and he’d like to put a paywall up at some point.

Philly Citizen to sell shares, postpones launch (again)

The Philly Citizen is (still) coming. After its first mention in February 2013 and then silence, the site — edited by Larry Platt, the former chief editorial officer of Philadelphia Magazine and the Philadelphia Daily News — hosted a few events and posted a video in September. In a novel approach for a news startup, Platt is pledging to sell shares of the nascent venture, a  la the Green Bay Packers. And he’s also interested in having proponents of the Citizen swear an oath to help make Philly better. The site is slated now for a mid-2015 launch, though it’s seeking $500,000 to trigger a match from Dilworth Paxon CEO and big thinker Ajay Raju.

Philly.com 2.0: Norcross bankrolls The Philly Voice

So what did George Norcross do with the millions he gained by selling his share of the Inquirer/Daily News/Philly.com? Plan to launch a Philly.com clone run by his daughter, Lexie Norcross, and staffed by the three executive producers at Philly.com who quit in unison after Brian Tierney yelled at them. And then the poaching began, with several Philly.com staffers jumping ship to the new venture, which also plans a 2015 launch.

Sheinelle Jones to TODAY

It took a little while, but former Good Day anchor Sheinelle Jones’ hysterical, so-good-it-went-viral interview with swimmer and himbo Ryan Lochte scored her a pretty neat gig: A slot on the Today show. Jones’ move was announced on Sept. 15, and she’s now working the weekend gig for the a.m. news heavyweight.

City names Channel 6 one of the worst energy users on the grid

You guys it takes a LOT of power to get Jim Gardner’s mustache looking JUUUUST RIIIIGHT at airtime. In October, the city of Philadelphia released data listing the least energy-efficient buildings in Philadelphia. Among the worst offenders: five ex-Bell Telephone buildings run by Verizon, and 6ABC. Look, do you think Cecily Tynan looks like that without a massive expenditure of electricity? Nnnnope.

Inquirer investigates the Daily News

The story was ostensibly about why a potentially corrupt cop, Thomas Tolstoy, was still on the streets. But as it wound along, things became more apparent: The Philadelphia Inquirer was questioning the reporting that went into its sister paper, the Daily News, winning the Pulitzer Prize. Reporters Mike Newall and Aubrey Whelan went long in talking to police and federal investigators, who claimed the DN‘s Barbara Laker and Wendy Ruderman imperiled their investigation. Indeed, police union chief John McNesby held a press conference to denounce Laker and Ruderman for buying their sources things like diapers and groceries. The story on the probe was first killed by new owner Gerry Lenfest — then Philly City Paper‘s Dan Denvir wrote up the internal drama for the Columbia Journalism Review, which Lenfest later admitted led to the Inquirer finally publishing its investigation into the investigation about a week later. Laker and Ruderman strenuously denied anything improper, and things got pretty tense ’round the office.

‘Busted’ heads to the small screen

Meanwhile, the book that Laker and Ruderman wrote about their Pulitzer-winning series was optioned in Hollywood, and Sarah Jessica Parker will star in it. The ‘Sex in the City’ leading lady visited Philly in October, and toured some of the hardscrabble neighborhoods the Daily News’ reporters visited in the course of their reporting.

Patrick Kerkstra moves to Philly Mag, brings Holly Otterbein along

He’s sort of the eminence grise of Philadelphia politics reporters: Patrick Kerkstra, a former Philadelphia Inquirer City Hall reporter, had been freelancing for various places around the city for about four years. in June, Kerkstra told the city what his next move was: Deputy editor of Philadelphia Magazine, where he’d be tasked with beefing up the publication’s coverage of the city and the politics therein. His first big move, announced just a week ago: Hiring Holly Otterbein away from NewsWorks, where the City Paper and Daily News alum has been cranking out interesting coverage of the Philadelphia School District and City Hall. It’s a publication – and a staff – to watch closely in 2015.

LuAnn Cahn leaves NBC 10

NBC10 reporter LuAnn Cahn has been on the air a LOOOOOONG time — 27 years at the station, to be precise. And this year, she “retired.” Apparently she’s working on something new and took her leave (and her salary) off the station’s books at the same time. Cahn won a national Emmy for a story about Delaware County politicians running an illicit bar; she talked about that, and other career highlights, with Philadelphia Magazine‘s Victor Fiorillo.

WHYY launches Keystone Crossroads to cover Pennsylvania cities

This year, Philly public TV network WHYY announced the start of “Keystone Crossroads,” a $1.5 million effort among five Pennsylvania stations to look at urban decline and solutions across the state. The plan: Partners WESA in Pittsburgh, WPSU in central Pennsylvania and WITF in Harrisburg, as well as Pittsburgh’s WQED, will join with ‘HYY in using comprehensive, data-driven, multimedia reporting.

Billy Penn launches

OK we’re biased — and probably at least a little tired of reading about ourselves in other publications — but we’d be remiss if we failed to mention the October 22 launch of this humble site. Drawing together veterans from the Washington Post, the Inquirer (cough), WHYY’s Newsworks, the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette and the Harrisburg Patriot-News — as well as Digital First Media’s Project Thunderdome, AOL, the Huffington Post, the Guardian and more — the site went live a mere eight weeks ago. We’ve covered debates with emojis, explained everything from street money to a U.S. Congressman, looked into an unsolved crime and a dormant development project, hung out at a home game for the #LOLSixers and told you what cheesesteaks Philly’s best chefs like to eat — and what they liked at the Wells Fargo center, too. Here’s to a busy 2015, you guys.

Related: Here’s the awards the Pen & Pencil Club — the oldest press club in America — handed out in 2014.

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