A very loud ripple of inside-baseball went through Philly’s media community (such as it is) yesterday when a story about developer Bart Blatstein putting together a group called Philly Hometown Media appeared on the Daily News‘s Clout blog. The piece, stating that Blatstein’s group was looking into making a bid on the once-again-for-sale Inquirer, DN, and Philly.com, then disappeared quickly, then started appearing everywhere else as Philadelphia Media Network execs desperately tried to do damage control. At issue was why the Clout story was killed (with rumors of an Inky story the same day that had also been sat on) and what, if anything, this all had to do with another group, comprised of Ed Rendell, Johnny Doc, Ed Snider, and other traditional Philly Democratic Machine players that had also shown interest in taking on the ailing papers.
While the rumor mill suggested that the kill switch could be traced directly to PMN CEO Greg Osberg, who’s been said to be siding with the Rendell group, by today, any effort to squelch public recognition of Blatstein et al’s interest in the papers had failed miserably. The story hit the AP and NYT, and the Inky wound up running its original story on the matter. Amidst all this stands Blatstein himself, a controversial figure in the world of real estate who has nevertheless put together a respectable group of local businesspeople who are notably free of the myriad conflicts of interest immediately apparent in the Rendell group. (Here’s our own conflict of interest alert: Blatstein is a friend and sometimes client of Philebrity.)
After the jump, we quickly grill Blatstein on his intentions.
Why, exactly, do you want to buy the papers?
We feel we can bring the newspapers and philly.com up to 2012 and beyond, and tweak the model so that it makes economic sense. Also, it is such an important institution in the city and region that it needs to be protected.
There was a heartening quote in the press release you guys sent around — “We reject the notion that operating the dominant print and online source for news and information in the Philadelphia area has to be an act of philanthropy” — but how would you make the papers profitable when an antiquated union strangles every new ownership group dead?
The papers haven’t changed much in decades, and it’s our goal to make them more relevant to today. There are technological ways that we can adapt to today, and there’s models around the country that have shown that print can be profitable. We’d like to explore them.
What about unions?
I’m not privy yet to specific info about contracts, but I can say this: All of the people that I have met with the newspapers are passionate and have a love for Philadelphia and want to see this [the papers] succeed.
Why do you think PMN tried to kill the story about your group yesterday?
I don’t know.
Now, immediately before this group came together, we’d gotten a tip that you’d applied for a gaming license for the Inquirer building. Has that been scrapped?
That’s incorrect. I have not applied for a gaming license for that site.
If your group did successfully purchase PMN’s assets, would you then keep the papers at their present locale?
This is not an effort of where to keep or put the newspapers, it’s an effort to purchase the assets of PMN.
Read more Philebrity interviews here.