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Philadelphia newspapers sold again

Matt Rourke/Associated Press

The new owners of Philadelphia’s newspapers are promising not to interfere with editorial decisions.

PHILADELPHIA - A group of business leaders has purchased Philadelphia’s two largest newspapers from hedge funds for $55 million, a fraction of what investors paid for them in 2006.

It is the fifth time in six years the newspapers have been sold.

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The buyers, who include influential New Jersey Democrat George Norcross III, former New Jersey Nets owner Lewis Katz, and cable TV mogul H.F. “Gerry’’ Lenfest, said they plan to keep the newspapers’ tradition of strong journalism alive in the digital age.

They pledged not to meddle with content, though some of the new owners frequently make headlines. The Inquirer reported last month on how Norcross uses his “political muscle’’ to run a hospital.

“Nobody is going to interfere with the news,’’ Katz said. “They would be crazy to do that.’’

The investors had an exclusive option to bid for Philadelphia Media Network, which also operates the Philly.com website and a weekly sports publication. Norcross said he and Katz put the sale in motion by making an unsolicited offer for the papers.

The purchase price is less than 15 percent of the $515 million paid in 2006, and less than the $139 million paid at a 2010 bankruptcy auction.

Philadelphia Media Network cut 45 positions last month, leaving 320 journalists at the two newspapers and website - one-third of the editorial staffing level during the 1980s.

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