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updated: 5/28/2014 8:45 AM

Philadelphia newspapers sell for $88 million at auction

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Bloomberg News

Minority owners of the Philadelphia Inquirer and its sister publication won control of the newspapers at a court-ordered auction that valued the company at $88 million.

Lewis Katz, the former owner of the basketball team then known as the New Jersey Nets, and Philadelphia philanthropist H.F. "Gerry" Lenfest submitted the winning bid, according to a statement from George Norcross, who led an opposing majority group. The three men led a group that purchased the Inquirer in 2012 for $55 million.

The auction today ends months of dispute between Katz and Norcross, a New Jersey insurance executive, over the direction of the Inquirer. Last year, they sued each other over the decision to fire William Marimow, the Inquirer's editor-in- chief, a move that Norcross supported. Marimow was subsequently reinstated as top editor.

"It is time to return the company's focus to journalism and away from conflict among its owners," according to a statement on behalf of the majority owners.

Delaware Chancery Court Judge Donald Parsons last month ordered that Interstate General Media LLC, the company that owns the newspapers, be dissolved and the owners bid for the assets at a private auction. The minimum bid was set at $77 million, enough to cover the original purchase price and satisfy outstanding debt.

Jay Devine, a spokesman for Katz and Lenfest, didn't immediately respond to an e-mail for comment on the auction.

The Inquirer, founded in 1829, has won at least 18 Pulitzer Prizes. The Inquirer and the Daily News had a common owner starting in 1969, when they were bought by Knight Newspapers Inc., a chain that no longer exists.

The case is In re Interstate General Media Holdings LLC, CA9221, Delaware Chancery Court (Wilmington).

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