The Philadelphia Inquirer announced Tuesday that its chief executive officer, publisher Terrance C.Z. Egger, will retire and be replaced next month by Lisa Hughes, a member of the company’s board of directors, who will become the first female publisher of The Inquirer in its 190-year history.
Hughes, who worked in magazine publishing for decades and served as vice president/publisher of the New Yorker until 2017, will take over Feb. 3. She said she plans to build on Egger’s strategies to diversify revenue sources, through both commercial means and philanthropy, to preserve local journalism in a time of economic turmoil.
“Nothing matters more in our democracy than local journalism,” Hughes said, “to speak truth to power, to hold elected officials accountable, to celebrate our sports teams’ wins and losses, and to report on justice reform and the education system and gun violence, all of which has been part of The Inquirer’s beat for 190 years.”
Hughes, 59, has not worked in local news or at a daily newspaper other than sitting on The Inquirer’s board of directors since 2018, and serving last year briefly as a paid consultant with the organization on events strategy.
Those involved in selecting Hughes said she was picked because of her work for nearly nine years leading business operations at the New Yorker, where she and editor David Remnick steered the weekly magazine’s transformation from a legacy brand dependent on print advertising into a digital player that leans more on reader revenue. Those who worked with Hughes described her as decisive and direct, and said that while her background is in business, she asks questions like a journalist.
Remnick said it was his impression that she read the New Yorker “deeply” and demanded that her staff did, too.
“She wanted everybody involved with it to understand what they were selling, what this business was about, in a journalistic sense, in an ethical sense, and even in a spiritual sense,” he said, “and not try to sell it as something that it was not.”
Hughes said that while she didn’t know during the interview process that she would be the first woman publisher of The Inquirer, she was “proud of the breakthrough” and vowed to elevate the voices of women, people of color, and members of the LGBTQ community.
She said that emphasis builds on work during Egger’s tenure, in which changes in the newsroom have included diversifying the workforce. Inquirer executive editor and senior vice president Stan Wischnowski said that while “we’re still not there yet,” the newsroom is now about 26% journalists of color, compared with about 14% in 2016. He also said the newsroom was 65% male in 2016 and is now about 55% male.
Diane Mastrull, president of the NewsGuild of Greater Philadelphia, the largest union at The Inquirer, said she was “heartened to see this 190-year-old institution finally led by a woman." The union, she said, hopes Hughes’ tenure brings a new contract that ends a decade of stagnant wages, unpaid furloughs, and “inadequate attention to diversity.” The current contract expires March 30 and covers 320 journalists, customer service representatives, and advertising and finance specialists.
Egger, 62, plans to retire and spend more time with family out of state. He informed Inquirer board chair Josh Kopelman of his intentions several months ago, and the move was announced to the staff in an email at 12:01 a.m. Tuesday.
A former publisher of the Cleveland Plain Dealer, Egger became the head of what was then Philadelphia Media Network — the parent company of The Inquirer, the Daily News, and Philly.com — in 2015 after about a decade of ownership changes and shakeups at the top of the company.
Four years of change
Egger was chosen by H.F. “Gerry” Lenfest, the late philanthropist, who in 2014 fought in court to buy the papers and then in early 2016 donated the holdings to what became the nonprofit Lenfest Institute for Journalism. It has been endowed with tens of millions of dollars to help create a future for local news.
Today, The Inquirer is a “public benefit corporation,” meaning that while it operates as a for-profit business, public interest is at the core of its mission. Hughes described the corporate structure as “very promising.”
Over the last four years, Egger oversaw the merger of what had been three newsrooms, as well as multiple rounds of buyouts and staff cuts he said were implemented to stabilize the company’s finances amid declining revenue and plummeting circulation, problems that have plagued the media industry across the nation.
While print advertising took a nosedive over the last two decades, digital advertising has largely failed to make up for the losses. Meanwhile, Google and Facebook have only fortified their online advertising dominance.
In response, Egger led brand consolidation efforts, newsroom reorganizations to emphasize investigative journalism, and the launch of a metered paywall. In 2018, Editor and Publisher magazine named him Publisher of the Year.
Egger counts The Inquirer’s digital subscription model among his achievements, but is disappointed at advertising revenue under his leadership.
“That’s one I own. That was my background,” he said. “I thought we would make better progress.”
Egger’s four-year tenure was also marked by clashes with the Guild, culminating in the union’s executive board last year declaring it had no confidence in him, a first in its history. Guild leadership accused Egger of working in bad faith after he delayed responding to a wage increase request and then would not commit to a pay raise.
Appealing to the next generation
Hughes has never led a unionized workforce, but said her seat on the Inquirer board gave her a window into ongoing negotiations. She said she looks forward to “learning and listening.”
Originally from Greenwich, Conn., Hughes graduated from Harvard University with a degree in fine arts and took her first job in ad sales at Cook’s Magazine. At Condé Nast Inc., she was an associate publisher of Vanity Fair in the early 1990s, then served two stints as publisher of Condé Nast Traveler between 1995 and 2009.
She spent the next eight years as vice president/publisher of the New Yorker until 2017, when Condé Nast eliminated the role.
Hughes, who said she plans to relocate to Philadelphia in the coming weeks, said she feels “handpicked” by Egger and wants to continue executing his vision without making sweeping changes out of the gate. She said she admires the work that legacy media organizations like the Washington Post and the New York Times have done to shore up digital subscriptions, and also finds inspiration in newer ventures like Crooked Media, which has a host of partisan political podcasts, and the Athletic, a network of subscription-based sports websites.
Hughes said she’d analyze the organization’s email newsletters and podcasts with the goal of producing a product “that appeals to the next generation of readers.” She also hopes to continue shifting The Inquirer’s events strategy from business-to-business — awards dinners and the like — to one that highlights its journalistic content.
One of the most revered events across the publishing industry is the New Yorker Festival, an annual event that attracts 20,000 people, among them icons in arts, culture and politics, from Lena Dunham to Edward Snowden (who was interviewed virtually). The festival was created before Hughes’ stint at the New Yorker began, but she said she made the event profitable by seeing it as more than a boon for sponsors. It’s also an audience development tool, she said, and was a way for a younger audience to be introduced to the brand.
While Hughes ran its business operations, the New Yorker also launched a handful of email newsletters and podcasts, and forged a partnership with public radio broadcaster WNYC. Cindi Leive, former editor-in-chief of Glamour, said that inside Condé Nast, Hughes was “clearly the executive to beat.”
“She did what every journalist wants their business partner to do,” she said, “which is use all their marketing muscle to support the journalism that, in the New Yorker’s case, was the heartbeat of that brand.”
The New Yorker also in 2014 launched a metered paywall, allowing readers to read a handful of articles free each month.
Monica Ray, executive vice president, consumer revenue, at Condé Nast, worked alongside Hughes and Remnick throughout the process. She said that while some publishers at the time balked at paywalls, thinking page views would drop, Hughes led “a remarkable trajectory on the consumer revenue side."
In 2016, Advertising Age named Hughes Publisher of the Year as the publication saw a 12% rise in consumer revenue. That came before January 2017, the New Yorker’s biggest month in subscription growth (although Condé Nast on the whole incurred a $120 million loss domestically that year, the Wall Street Journal reported.)
Kopelman, a venture capitalist, led the executive selection committee, and said that while he had conversations with other candidates, Hughes was on a list of potential candidates provided by Egger and was ultimately the committee’s first choice.
He added that he expected the transition to be smooth, saying: “This is not a change in ownership. This is not a change in strategy. This is not a change in structure.”
Those involved in Hughes’ selection said they were not concerned about her lack of experience in local news.
“In my view, that’s a very good thing,” said Jim Friedlich, executive director and CEO of the Lenfest Institute for Journalism. “We need fresh vision to apply the successes of other serious news businesses to the challenges of local news.”
Both Friedlich and David Boardman, board chair of the Lenfest Institute, were involved in the executive selection process. Boardman said he measures the success of any publisher by the quality of the journalism.
“It’s pretty hard to name any publication that’s had a more consistent quality than the New Yorker over the past two decades. That gives us a whole lot of reason for optimism,” he said. “At the same time … it’s clear to me that she understands what the challenges are here, and they’re huge.”
Former colleagues said Hughes is a mentor who won confidence by placing it in others. Beth Lusko said she was 27 in 2004 when she was first hired by Hughes and then worked for her over the next decade, following her and taking a job as an associate publisher at the New Yorker.
Today, Lusko is head of sales for travel for all of Condé Nast.
“The most important skill [Hughes] taught me is to not be afraid,” Lusko said. “She gave me the confidence to really believe that I could be empowered to move quickly and make decisions and have a plan.”