Rivals debate auction rules for Philly newspapers

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News,Business,Media,Philadelphia,Auctions

PHILADELPHIA (AP) — The top investor in Philadelphia's largest newspapers wants the company sold in a quick, closed auction among current partners while a rival wants a slower sale open to all.

The Philadelphia Inquirer, the Philadelphia Daily News and Philly.com is expected to be sold for the sixth time in eight years, and would come less than two years after powerful Democrat George Norcross, Lewis Katz and others joined forces as Interstate General Media to buy the businesses.

After a falling out, Norcross and Katz are leading rival factions that filed briefs this week in the Delaware court handling the dissolution and sale of their company.

Norcross, who owns an insurance company, wants a private sale among current investors, done on just a few days' notice.

"You and I both have the funding readily available to buy each other out," Norcross wrote in a Jan. 29 letter to Katz, the former New Jersey Nets owner, which went unanswered.

"A new president, publisher and CEO need to be hired. ... A new editor for the Inquirer needs to be identified. A new editor for Philly.com must be hired," Norcross wrote in the letter, which was attached to a court filing Wednesday. "This dispute has delayed those critical moves for months."

Norcross suggested that he and Katz meet for a two-man showdown on 48 hours' notice, "with winner taking all." Katz, in his filing, seeks a slower approach.

He asked Chancery Court Judge Donald F. Parsons Jr. to hold a one- or two-day hearing to determine the auction rules. He called for a closed-bid auction open to all, to fetch the highest price, while Norcross argued for an "English auction" with incremental bidding.

"The (Newspaper) Guild's motion to intervene demonstrates that there is interest outside of the current ownership in bidding on IGM," Katz's lawyer wrote, referring to an employee effort to mount a joint bid with an unnamed partner. "Additional bidders will promote an even greater sale price."

Inquirer Editor Bill Marimow's contract expires in April, and won't be renewed if Norcross stays onboard. Publisher Bob Hall has support from Norcross, but not Katz.

The company's sales price has dropped from $515 million in 2006 to about $55 million in 2012.

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