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Businessman and co-owner of the Philadelphia Inquirer Lewis Katz walks from a courtroom in City Hall in Philadelphia on Oct. 28, 2013. / Matt Rourke, AP

It's a stunning development. And a jarring reminder of the fragility of life.

Just four days after winning an auction to take over Philadelphia's dominant news organizations, defeating a bitter rival in the process, Lewis Katz died late Saturday night in a plane crash.

Katz, 72, was a man of many accomplishments. He was a highly successful businessman, a millionaire many times over. He had owned two sports franchises, the New Jersey Nets and New Jersey Devils. He was a generous philanthropist: Just last fall, he announced he'd be giving $25 million to Temple University, his alma mater. It was the largest single pledge in the school's history.

But a major bullet item in the list of the Camden, N.J., native's achievements will include his contributions to quality public service journalism in Philadelphia.

As one of two managing partners of Interstate General Media, until last Tuesday owner of The Philadelphia Inquirer, the Philadelphia Daily News and philly.com, Katz was a staunch defender of the regime of Inquirer editor Bill Marimow. a journalist long associated with the pursuit of serious reporting about important social issues.

When Marimow was fired last year by Publisher Bob Hall, an ally of George Norcross, the company's other managing partner and a foe of Katz's, Katz went to court and got Marimow reinstated.

And last week Katz dramatically put his money where his commitment to journalism was. Given the complete dysfunction of the news outlets' situation, the owners dissolved their agreement. A Delaware court presided over an auction in which the only bidders were the dueling camps headed by Katz and Norcross.

And Katz and his ally, philanthropist H. F "Gerry" Lenfest, ponied up $88 million to prevail. That's real money -- $33 million more than the papers were sold for a couple of years back.

It's hardly a secret that the newspaper business faces huge challenges in the digital era. And the financially challenged Inky, Daily News and philly.com are hardly cash cows. The papers have been sold five times in the past eight years, an amazing statistic. The papers' staffs have been seriously downsized. It will take a major commitment to keep them going and, most important, to help them plot a successful course for the digital future.

And in a press conference after the auction, Katz and Lenfest made clear they had no magic recipes for a turnaround.

Yet they believed that it was essential that Philadelphia, a wonderful city beset by daunting social problems, continue to have ambitious public service journalism, something the Inquirer has continued to provide despite the massive cutbacks.

Of course, it's important to note that Katz had a very personal connection to quality journalism. His longtime companion was Nancy Phillips, the Inquirer's city editor and a Marimow protege known for outstanding reporting earlier in her career.

It's impossible to know what the ramifications of Katz's tragic death will be on the future of the news organizations' future. But the early signs are positive. Katz's son Drew will succeed him on the board.

Katz's deep connection to journalism stemmed from a chance encounter when he was a student at Temple. Drew Pearson, long a powerful syndicated columnist based in Washington, D.C., came to Temple to give a speech, and Katz was dispatched to pick him up at the train station and show him around.

Katz was smitten with the columnist and with journalism in general. He went to work as a "leg man," or reporter, for Pearson. Thanks to that experience, Marimow told me, Katz "developed a love and appreciation for journalism. It was a fascination he carried for the rest of his life."

Katz's son Drew is named for Pearson.

Marimow says Katz was "thrilled" whenever the Inquirer did great public service journalism, or whenever anyone else did, for that matter. He occasionally would send Marimow clips of Washington Post articles written by Ann Marimow--Bill's daughter.

"He loved giving (news) tips," Marimow says. "He was full of information and curiosity."

Katz never forgot his roots. When Marimow visited him in Arizona a few years back, Katz's other house guests were five couples he had known since junior high.

He was, says Marimow, "a one in a million kind of guy."



Copyright 2014 USATODAY.com

Read the original story: Rieder: Katz's lifelong love of great journalism

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