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In an interview today (July 27) in the Globe and Mail, the national Canadian paper, David Black, investor and adviser in Platinum Equity's purchase of the Union-Tribune, looks to a no-frills editorial future for the U-T. "Mr. Black and Platinum don't have dreams of editorial expansion [for the U-T]," says the paper. "Mr. Black's papers are mostly of the decidedly no-frill variety, and, in one example, there are no plans to resurrect the Union-Tribune's Washington bureau, which was shuttered last year," says the Globe and Mail. "In a perfect world, you have bureaus in several places, but that perfect world isn't going to happen, I don't believe, where you have money to burn in editorial," the Globe and Mail quotes Black saying. He said that he sees a future for advertising by furniture stores and auto dealerships when the economy comes back.

Black is in the U-T deal as a private investor. His company, Black Press, has made several acquisitions, including the Akron Beacon-Journal. The company bought the paper in 2006 for $165 million and slashed the editorial staff by 25 percent. Black says it is making money, but he had to take a $100 million writedown on the investment. At the time, Torstar, parent of the Toronto Star, had a 19.4% stake in Black Press. After the writedown, Torstar reduced the value of that stake to zero.

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Comments

SurfPuppy619 July 27, 2009 @ 11:07 a.m.

The company bought the paper in 2006 for $165 million and slashed the editorial staff by 25 percent. Black says it is making money, but he had to take a $100 million writedown on the the investment.

May be making money, but not much if they took that kind of write down.

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Don Bauder July 27, 2009 @ 11:59 a.m.

Response to post #1: I don't think many metro dailies are making much money, and many are losing their shirts. Best, Don Bauder

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Visduh July 27, 2009 @ 4:59 p.m.

If anyone in or out of the U-T had any hopes of a sort of renaissance of the paper, that should dash those hopes forever. I've son some of those Gannett papers in smaller metro areas, and they are humble. I suppose that sort of operation is what Black is talking about when he calls for a no frills paper.

And if anyone out there still subscribes to the U-T, get ready to pay the same subscription rates (or maybe higher) for a shrunken, inferior product. Think that's harsh? There was a murder case tried downtown that ended a week or so ago in a guilty verdict. It never was mentioned in the U-T!

When the rag isn't even covering "fuzz and was" stories, what the heck else are we never hearing about?

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Don Bauder July 27, 2009 @ 10:55 p.m.

Response to post #3: For starters, the U-T never acknowledges that the real estate development industry runs both the city and county. In fact, the U-T seems to think it's good. Recently, a new member of the city pension board declared at a meeting that there was no way the city could pay what it owes the pension system. If that was in the U-T, it was probably buried. John Moores cleaned up financially on Pillage Village (ballpark district) as well as Peregrine, and skipped town. He had promised he would spend heavily to make the Padres winners, and had also said that the ballpark project would pay for itself (it's a drain). The attendance is worse this year than it was in the last year at Qualcomm as the team languishes in the basement. Do you read about that in the U-T? Best, Don Bauder

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Visduh July 28, 2009 @ 8:58 a.m.

Actually, the U-T does mention in passing the dismal attendance. But it is in the context of the usual output from the sports shills on staff, Canepa, Sullivan, et. al. They are still doing their sports puffery, and use scads of space to talk endlessly about the minutia of the game.

It is ironic that the Padres attendance this year is worse than its last year at Qualcomm. For the last three years the Pads played there, the crummy attendance was blamed on the venue and not on the teams or their performance. So, now that they don't have the ballpark to blame, what's their excuse?

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HellcatCopley July 28, 2009 @ 9:19 a.m.

Remember back in March:

... Union-Tribune Editor Karin Winner called the sale “terrific news. This is a company that really believes in us and the future,” Winner said. “This is a company that really wants to see journalism continue. They believe in this region. ... They are a strong, healthy company.”

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Visduh July 28, 2009 @ 9:34 a.m.

Winner's comments are now ringing very hollow. Did she believe her own BS when she said that? If she did, she was an old fool, and if she didn't, just further undermines her credibility.

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paul July 28, 2009 @ 9:48 a.m.

dbauder: "The attendance is worse this year than it was in the last year at Qualcomm as the team languishes in the basement."

Don, it's much worse than that. Overall, MLB payrolls are up 81% since 1998. The Padres payroll is actually DOWN 5% from what it was in 1998, despite the fact we bankrolled the new stadium. The 1998 payroll was $46 million. The current payroll is $43,734,200. One player makes $11 of that $43.7 (Jake Peavey), and they have been trying to trade him. That would drop their payroll to $32.7 million, or 29% LESS than 1998.

The drop in payroll is despite the fact that according to Forbes calculations, the Padres revenue in 2000 (the oldest year I saw listed) was $79 million, but the revenue for 2009 is projected to be $174 million.

Moores bought the team in 1994 for $94 million, and it was reported sold in the off-season for between $400 and $425 million (largely due to the stadium we paid for).

Mr. Moores, can we please have our money back?

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Don Bauder July 28, 2009 @ 10:19 a.m.

Response to post #5: Remember when the Padres went to playoffs when they were playing at Qualcomm? Attendance was terrific. Attendance tends to be tied to a team's record. John Moores promised that if the taxpayers would throw $300 million-plus into his ballpark, he would spend money on having a good team. The team is truly lousy and has one of the lowest payrolls in baseball. Moores, having raked in millions in the ballpark district real estate deal, is in Texas. Connect the dots. Best, Don Bauder

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Don Bauder July 28, 2009 @ 10:22 a.m.

Response to post #6: Her reward for making such wild statements is that she is still on the payroll. Best, Don Bauder

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Don Bauder July 28, 2009 @ 10:25 a.m.

Response to post #7: The question is: did she understand what private equity groups, or asset strippers/flippers, were all about? Was she disingenuous or naive? Best, Don Bauder

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Don Bauder July 28, 2009 @ 10:36 a.m.

Response to post #8: This is great information. More should be done with it. Can you call me at 619-546-8529 or email me at don.bauder@mac.com so I can get more information? Many thanks in advance. And the answer to your question of whether Moores will give the money back: It's NO. Moores sold almost $500 million of Peregrine stock before it collapsed in fraud. He and other board members will pay $55 million to settle some suits. That's a hefty return. Moores sold off ballpark district land that he got for low prices to condo builders who paid top dollar. The condos are now just about empty. Will he give the money back? Same response. Best, Don Bauder

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Don Bauder July 29, 2009 @ 10:56 a.m.

NOTE: Another former top Copley executive is going on to allegedly greener pastures. Bill Nagel, who was senior vice president of business channels at the Union-Tribune, overseeing consumer and advertising revenue development, has been named executive vice president of business services at the Los Angeles Times. He will oversee circulation at the Times, also focusing on increasing alternative revenue sources. Best, Don Bauder

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Don Bauder July 29, 2009 @ 6:27 p.m.

NOTE: Union-Tribune staffers have now been told via a memo that Randy Frisch, senior vice president of operations, has "voluntarily" resigned. He will be replaced by Paul Bridwell, chief restructuring officer of Platinum Equity, new owner of the U-T. Staffers believe that only Karin Winner, editor, is left from the former executive committee, which consisted of Frisch, Scott Whitley, Bill Nagel, Mark Davis, Bobbie Espinosa, Jessica Walker, Gene Bell and Winner. Best, Don Bauder

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Visduh July 29, 2009 @ 9:12 p.m.

Yeah, all those people who were enjoying fat paychecks and secure jobs with Copley are now just getting up and leaving. The jobs are no longer secure, and the pay is going to shrink. But leave "voluntarily?" That's like volunteering to jump out of an airplane with no 'chute to lighten the load enough for the plane to land safely. (Some old jokes are built around that notion.) This time it's no joke.

The joke is the editorial product of the U-T. The "incredible shrinking newspaper" shrinks a little more every day. Oh, it is beating up on Sanders, but are there enough readers to notice?

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Don Bauder July 29, 2009 @ 9:20 p.m.

Response to post #15: Yes, I know at least one of those old jokes. As I recall, "God save the king!" is one line and "Vive la France!" is another, both leading up to the conclusion. I don't know that the U-T is "beating up" on Sanders. I would say it is mollycoddling him a little less than it has in the past. Best, Don Bauder

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WhatGoesAround July 30, 2009 @ 1:18 a.m.

With apologies to the late Agatha Christie,

". . . and then there was one. . . ."

plus one Chief Restructuring Officer.


In response to post #11, I would say mostly naive, with a disingenuous intent.

Karin "Survivor-UT" Winner. To the extent that she is the last one standing, I would have to give her the $1 million.

This makes me seriously wonder if there was / is a contractual agreement or other unbreachable understanding between Helen Copley and David regarding a life-time job guarantee for Ms. Winner that was part of the deal with Platinum Equity. How else does someone preside over a newspaper's "Editorial Division of Dysfunctional Mediocrity" and get away with it for a lifetime?

As David Black commented, . . . "that perfect world isn't going to happen, I don't believe, where you have money to burn in editorial . . . ."

Well, there was a time when there was plenty of money, and if someone in charge at the U-T had actually cared about world-class journalism, the Union-Tribune could have been a truly great newspaper. That possibility is gone for good.

What a colossal waste of employee training, talent and invested capital.

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Don Bauder July 30, 2009 @ 6:33 a.m.

Response to post #17: I don't know whether there is an old agreement that keeps Winner on the payroll. She was very close to both Helen and David Copley, true, but David was absolutely desperate to sell the paper, too. Finally, the Copley Press paid Platinum Equity to take the Union-Tribune by selling the company for $50 million when the real estate was worth more than $100 million. There were always some very good people at the U-T, (still are) but they all knew (know) where their bread was (is) buttered. Traditionally, reporters and columnists pick their spots when they want to practice honest journalism. They have always watched what was happening. One young man did a terrific job covering the Chargers/Padres scams. He was shipped to National City and is now in Orange County. Another did a good job on that story and quit to write grant proposals. Contrarily, an editor made sure the company line dominated the sports scams coverage and got bumped up two notches into the hierarchy. The paper always has been in the pocket of the downtown establishment and I can't imagine that will change. Best, Don Bauder

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Visduh July 30, 2009 @ 7:55 a.m.

WhatGoesAround has hit it on the head. There was money to make the paper great, yet it settled for mediocrity in its local reporting, for sure. Is it possible for a paper to be a booster for the local economy without selling its soul to the establishment? It probably can be done, but not without making some gut-wrenching decisions. Those were the sort of decisions the U-T seldom if ever made.

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Don Bauder July 30, 2009 @ 8:51 a.m.

Response to post #19: I don't think any paper should be a booster for the local economy. Business news should be as balanced as any other kind of news. Both bulls and bears should be given their due. If there is a local initiative involving tax funds, the paper is duty-bound to investigate whether this could be corporate welfare that would benefit a tiny handful of rich folks while draining the taxpayer. The U-T consistently fails on this, greatly because it so often has a stake in corporate welfare. On a national level, the business TV talking heads are always trying to talk the stock market up. (After all, their jobs depend on it.) News is egregiously spun to the positive side. Government statistical manipulations are permitted to go on without comment. A newspaper or a magazine should not be just happy talk. European business publications understand that. Best, Don Bauder

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Visduh July 30, 2009 @ 9:14 a.m.

Won't you concede, Don, that most papers in the US see boosting the local economy as a praiseworthy activity? When I lived in Seattle, a very long time ago, the Seattle Times should have blushed at its praise for the pillar of the local economy, Boeing. It also had a couple columnists who were always telling the readers that they lived in the next-best-place to Heaven, and that the climate (!) was the finest in the US. (That's a city that can go for 150 days straight--November through March--without ever seeing the sun.)

Hmm, maybe the Times was no better, in its own way, than the U-T when it came to honesty. Certainly it was far more politically liberal.

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Don Bauder July 30, 2009 @ 11:44 a.m.

Response to post #21: Oh yes. Almost all papers pump up the local economy. I didn't mean to say otherwise. I just said that it should not be their job to do that. In doing so, they are misleading investors -- which, of course, is exactly what the company wants the paper to do. The NY Times is one of the few local dailies that plays it straight, and even the Times will soften damning stories about Wall Street or not run them at all. Best, Don Bauder

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