David Batterson 7:30 a.m., Dec. 12
Reporters Say They Have Seen Singleton at U-T. But Will His MediaNews, with Hearst, Be A Buyer?
William Dean Singleton, founder of Denver-based MediaNews Group, has been prowling the halls of the Union-Tribune, reporters say. MediaNews owns or runs other S. Cal. papers such as the L.A. Daily News, Long Beach Press-Telegram, Pasadena Star-News and Daily Breeze (Torrance). Singleton likes to buy papers in one geographical area and consolidate operations. Hearst Corp. owns 31 percent of MediaNews outside of the Bay Area. (There was a private antitrust suit against MediaNews and Hearst in the Bay Area that was settled last year.) The two companies have several projects together. MediaNews just sold some papers to Hearst, which is considered a bit of a deep pocket for the Denver media company. In 2006, Copley sold the Daily Breeze to Hearst, with the idea that ownership would eventually go to MediaNews. Hearst, however, has lost a bundle on the Chronicle in San Francisco and is reportedly hesitant to buy big daily newspapers. There is another side to this story: money. MediaNews has been downgraded by debt rating services and there has been talk it might default on debt. A Denver blog has reported that on July 3, Singleton and another top executive wrote employees, denouncing the rating agencies and default rumors, and saying the company has faced worse leverage problems in the past. MediaNews admits it is overleveraged, but is reducing debt, said the memo, as reported by the blog. There is a key sentence in the memo: "MediaNews is not currently looking to acquire more newspapers." But then the statement was partially hedged: "Consolidation within the industry is inevitable." All factors considered, MediaNews/Hearst remains a bit of a longshot.