By Lou Baldwin
Special to The CS&T
It’s been a tough year for the newspaper business with bankruptcies left and right. On June 1, Tom Rice regretfully announced the Philadelphia Bulletin, the family-oriented daily he founded 4 and a half years ago, would cease publication immediately. The numbers, in terms of subscriptions and ad sales were slowly rising, but were still no way sufficient to cover costs.
Over the next three days, “We received about 1,500 phone calls and 2,000 e-mails from people who didn’t want us to stop publishing,” he said.
The cover price for the paper was an extremely modest 25 cents per copy. Many said they would be willing to pay more, and some online readers said they were willing to pay a fee to receive it. Others suggested perhaps printing only three copies weekly instead of five, and still others suggested a fundraising drive to keep it going.
“I loved how many people enjoyed reading our paper, feeling they had a newspaper that reflected their world view,” Rice said.
At any rate, reader response was such that on June 4, the newspaper’s web site hinted closure may not be final.
“Publication of The Bulletin has temporarily ceased,” it read. “We hope to resume publication in the near future.”
Rice admits it is by no means a sure thing the paper will reopen, but he’s exploring every possible avenue.
His own prior business experience was a successful career in investment banking with the Philadelphia brokerage houses Butcher and Singer, and W.H. Newbold.
As a kid growing up in St. Alphonsus Parish, Maple Glen, he sold the old Sunday Bulletin outside of church and delivered the neighborhood weekly. He worked on student papers at Upper Dublin High and Case Western University before getting his degree from La Salle.
He and his wife Emily, married 17 years, are the parents of five children ranging from age 14 to infancy; Erica, Charlotte, Lucy Elizabeth and Thomas. He is an extraordinary minister of holy Communion at St. Margaret Parish, Narberth, where Cardinal Justin Rigali just baptized Thomas.
In other interests, he is in his formation year with the Knights of Malta, a member of Legatus, a board member of the Abraham Lincoln Foundation and Philadelphia National Bible City. He is also a trustee on the Arts and Artifacts committee of the Union League of Philadelphia.
When Rice decided to found a new daily for the Philadelphia area, he hit upon the name Bulletin, partly out of nostalgia for the similarly-named Philadelphia paper that ceased publication in 1982.
“I learned how to read [from] the Bulletin,” he said.
Contrary to the paper’s frequently repeated Wikipedia entry, he did not buy naming rights from that newspaper’s publisher. “Bulletin” happened to be in the public domain.
While he would not term it so, the newspaper Rice published, in its staunch conservatism, was to print journalism somewhat akin to Fox News on television, but without the often lurid entertainment content of that network.
“I thought there was a need for a family paper that I could read, my wife could read and my children could read; a paper without salacious advertising or a sex column and I thought I wasn’t the only one who felt that way,” he said.
“I have a passion for truth, for life itself and liberty. The paper tried to reflect most of that, and the paper reflected the pro-life stance.”
While not a “Catholic” paper, those values he learned growing up Catholic permeated it.
“The Church has been my savior as long as I can remember,” Rice said. “Starting and running a newspaper deepened my faith.”