Are the Daily News and Inquirer owners muzzling their reporters?
Are the owners of the Philadelphia Inquirer and Daily News muzzling their own journalists to protect their financial interests?
It sure looked that way if you followed the Daily News' PhillyClout blog Tuesday.
Here's what happened:
Around mid-day reporter David Gambacorta wrote a post about a group of investors, headed by developer Bart Blatstein, who are interested in buying Philadelphia Media Network, the owners of both papers and Philly.com.
That report listed the investors in the group, called Philly Hometown Media, LLC.
(Last week it emerged that a different group of investors associated with former Gov. Ed Rendell has expressed interest in acquiring the company).
But sometime in the afternoon, the Gambacorta post disappeared, replaced by a new post, attributed to "staff," which said that "the company is not in discussions with Bart Blatstein or the group calling itself Philly Homegrown Media."
It's of course common practice in online journalism to update stories as more information becomes available.
But I can't recall a case where a new post scrubs material out of an old one and provides less information than was there before. And, to state the obvious, it's particularly striking when the material in question concerns the financial interests of the media organization involved.
We have the gist of the original post, courtesy of the respected website JimRomenesko.com, which quotes a source as speculating that the current management of PMN favors the Rendell group and not the Blatstein group.
So it seems we have company management purging a reporter's story to replace it with a version that reflects the owners' point of view. Because I used to work at the Daily News, I happen to know Gambacorta, the terrific young reporter who wrote the original post. He wisely declined to speak to me about this.
I asked company spokesman Mark Block whether management was tampering with the news here.
No, he said. A blog isn't the same as the newspaper.
"I think editorial discretion on the blog is a little more flexible than when you're editing a story for the home page or the print newspaper," Block told me in a telephone interview.
He said the original post was based on a press release by the Blatstein group, and he said the subsequent post, "gets to the very specific content of that press release and says, 'You know, it's not happening.'"
When I asked directly why the new post removed the information in the early report, he said there was "no objective or motive for that part of the decision."
I say it don't look good.
And it reminds me a lot of when the papers reported on their planned move to a new headquarters and buried the fact that there was a public subsidy involved.
This disclosure: One of Blatstein's investors, Jerry Sweeny, chairs the board of WHYY.
Here's an excerpt of the original PhillyClout post as reported by JimRomenesko.com:
Developer Bart Blatstein is leading a group of local investors who want to purchase Philadelphia Media Network, the parent company of the Daily News, Inquirer, Philly.com and SportsWeek.
The group, dubbed Philly Hometown Media LLC, is comprised of Blatstein; Jerry Sweeney, the president of the Brandywine Realty Trust; Bill Harvey, a partner at the law firm Klehr Harrison Harvey Branzburg; Harold Honickman, the soda mogul; and Andrew Barroway, a consumer rights litigator.
Blatstein's development company, Tower Investments, last year purchased PMN's ivory tower headquarters at Broad and Callowhill streets.
Philly Hometown Media LLC released a statement that read in part:
"We reject the notion that operating the dominant print and online sources for news and information in the Philadelphia area has to be an act of philanthropy.
"If we have learned anything in the last ten years, it's that Philadelphians, like the rest of the country, have become information junkies." .....
Last week, it was revealed that former Governor Ed Rendell was leading a group of at least five other local investors who also want to purchase the newspapers and their website from its current hedge fund owners. ...
And here's the replacement post on PhillyClout:
A Philadelphia Media Network spokesman today confirmed that the company is not in discussions with Bart Blatstein or the group calling itself Philly Homegrown Media to buy the company that publishes The Philadelphia Inquirer, the Daily News and philly.com.
A statement from Blatstein earlier Tuesday was posted on this blog in which he said his group would like to make a bid for the company.
The company issued no further comment.
You can read the Blatstein group's press release.