Former Philadelphia Mayor, Pennsylvania Governor, and chairman of the Democratic National Committee, Ed Rendell has put together a group to buy the local newspapers. This article in today’s New York Times gives me reason to worry.
The situation in Philadelphia speaks to the vulnerability of regional newspapers. Long operated as functional monopolies with attractive margins,local papers have undergone a nosedive in earnings and advertising revenue. Having ceased to be sure-fire financial investments,these newspapers,the reporters fear,could still be attractive as a tool to advance new owners’ political and business interests.
And then, of course, Buzz Bissinger puts it in perspective in a guest op-ed, also for The Times:
These men want the papers because they crave power and will always crave power. They like to win and they have always liked to win. They can erect the biggest firewall they want between themselves and the papers. It won’t matter. As the owners of The Inquirer and The Daily News and the Web site Philly.com,they will have successfully toppled the last enemy. The newspapers will become their personal Gutenberg press,which effectively means that the one city in the country that needs a newspaper the most will not have one.
September 18 is the deadline for the doomsday budget known as Plan C. If that goes into effect, as I’ve mentioned before, it will fundamentally change Philadelphia. It will be the systematic dismantling of a large part of city government, along with about 3,000 layoffs, including 1,000 police officers.
There has been progress in Harisburg, and I continue to be optimistic that, at least in the short term, disaster can be averted. I think it’s a good sign that everyone is upset – governor, mayor, unions – that’s the hallmark of a decent compromise. the ball is still in Harrisburg’s court as the state legislature tries to reconcile different plans.
In the meantime, Philebrity has a compendium of the ominous letters that are starting to circulate about how the city is, to a large extent, getting ready to shut down. *gulp*
Harrisburg took a big step to letting the city raise sales tax and restructure (*shudder*) pension plan payments (assigning a portion of pensions for new employees to *ulp* 401k plans). Plan C is still set to go into effect on September 18, effectively dismantling large portions of city government (including the Court system?). The unions are not too psyched about the pension plans that will be avvailable for new employees, but its hard to see how we can quibble over details with so much on the line. The revised bill HB 1828 now goes back to the House for another vote. they’re still analyzing, but if we can get through that, we’re pretty much there and we can put Plan C back in the drawer.
What is unclear is whether this is just rearranging the deck chairs on the Titanic. I know that the sales tax increase has some potential, but I also know there is a lot of fat in city government. Maybe we don’t need to eliminate 3000 jobs, but we do need to do something.