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Waters Log

Norcross, the newspaperman

By August 06. 2012 5:37AM

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One thing stands out about my two profile interviews with George E. Norcross III, besides his infamous glare that I had to endure more than once.

Before starting the second interview in a conference room, Norcross shepherded me into his office. He wanted to show me a replica of the 1865 page one of The Philadelphia Inquirer with the news that President Lincoln had been shot. The Inquirer was preparing to move its office from Broad to Market Street, and Norcross had asked someone to make replicas of famous front pages found during the packing. He seemed excited.

At the same time, my former newspaper, the Home News Tribune, was preparing to move from East Brunswick to Somerville, where it would share space with its Gannett sister paper, the Courier News. Not long after that move, I ran into the man who runs one of the local libraries in the HNT coverage area. This man—who is not young—had done what sounded like some back-busting work as he and his son packed a minivan 10 times with HNT clippings and photos. He seemed more overwhelmed than excited as he talked about trying to figure out where to house all this history in his library. He seemed upset that he had to throw some out, and that librarians in some other towns had little interest in the local files.

It sure didn’t sound like Gracia C. Martore, president and CEO of Gannett, was telling anyone to save famous front pages from the Home News Tribune so she could make replicas of them. And why would she? From an office in McLean, Va., Martore oversees 82 daily newspapers in the U.S. Has she ever even been to Middlesex County, N.J.?

Local ownership of newspapers is fraught with potential pitfalls. How could it not be? If you’re rich enough to be part of a small group of investors buying a newspaper, you also have significant business holdings or philanthropic interests that will likely be covered by that newspaper. There’s also a good chance you’ve been involved in local politics, if only as a campaign donor.

I don’t know what Norcross is up to as a managing partner of Interstate General Media LLC, which purchased the Inquirer and Daily News earlier this year. I know his track record as a political power boss points to the likelihood that he would interfere with the editorial side, even though the owners have pledged they won’t. I also know Norcross has a track record of taking challenged entities and working his ass off to turn them around, all while saying things like “failure is not an option.”

Time will tell what Norcross is up to. And I guess time will tell who is the better manager: the workaholic local guy willing to lose a chunk of his wealth in what seems to be the worst of investments, at a company that transferred 675 file cabinets-worth of clippings and photos—what a co-owner called “one of our most precious assets”—into a university’s archives; or the top brass at a public company who sit in Virginia collecting bonuses while their newsrooms get cut to the bone, and a local librarian carts away the clips with the hope of finding a way to save them.

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