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The state of the U-T and Tribune Publishing

Wall Street says thumbs down

Ed Koch and Douglas Manchester
Ed Koch and Douglas Manchester

Taking a cue from the late New York mayor Ed Koch, a loyal newspaper reader might ask, “How is the San Diego Union-Tribune doing?” More to the point, how is the financial condition of the paper’s owner, Chicago-based Tribune Publishing, getting along? Wall Street says thumbs down, based on the precipitous fall of the company’s stock in recent weeks, from a high of $24 to a bone-crushing $10.77 low on August 14. It has since recovered slightly, to $11.12 as of this Monday.

Why are the shares doing so poorly? One reason may be the dumping by ex-U-T owner Douglas Manchester of some of the 700,000-plus shares of stock that covered part of the paper’s $85 million sale price. Others point to the quarter-after-quarter decline in revenue, reflecting the newspaper industry’s chronic trouble selling ads. But don’t give up yet, says Tribune chief executive officer Jack Griffin, who announced last week that the company would be buying up $30 million of its own stock, thereby presumably buoying its market price. “The stock repurchase program announced today demonstrates our confidence in our Company and underscores our commitment to delivering shareholder value,” Griffin said in an August 18 news release. There are other signs that Griffin and associates believe they’ll have to spend more money if they want to ever make any of it.

The corporation’s website features a help-wanted advertisement for a new U-T senior “environment” reporter. “Do you take on explanatory reporting and watchdog assignments with equal gusto?” the notice asks. “Are you someone who aggressively pursues enterprise stories with a national or even international imprint? Does your definition of environment reporting cover everything from California’s drought and land-use controversies to population control and marine science?”

Continues the ad, “We appreciate a person who possesses speed along with accuracy, depth along with accessibility, lively prose along with expert sourcing.” According to the post, “You’ll be rewarded with a rich palette of stories in San Diego County, a region with 3.1 million people that’s diverse in ecology, special-interest activism and environmental trends urban and rural. This is a high-profile beat that will not disappoint.”

Among other qualifications, the new writer must “show competence with telephone, voice mail, faxes, printers, etc.,” and “have knowledge of libel laws and follow them.” The paper also is looking to hire a new real estate reporter. “The beat includes a range of real estate topics, including buying a home, selling a home, mortgages and financing, and renting,” says a description of the job posted on TalkingBizNews. “There are lots of opportunities for investigations and data journalism.”

On the business side, Tribune bragged in an August 19 stock-boosting PowerPoint presentation to prospective investors that it had, “Printed first edition of San Diego Union-Tribune in Los Angeles approximately three weeks after closing,” and “exited the San Diego production facility.” In addition, the company said it had been “recognized as first publisher to introduce [a] suite of Apple Watch apps for all of its brands.”

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Ed Koch and Douglas Manchester
Ed Koch and Douglas Manchester

Taking a cue from the late New York mayor Ed Koch, a loyal newspaper reader might ask, “How is the San Diego Union-Tribune doing?” More to the point, how is the financial condition of the paper’s owner, Chicago-based Tribune Publishing, getting along? Wall Street says thumbs down, based on the precipitous fall of the company’s stock in recent weeks, from a high of $24 to a bone-crushing $10.77 low on August 14. It has since recovered slightly, to $11.12 as of this Monday.

Why are the shares doing so poorly? One reason may be the dumping by ex-U-T owner Douglas Manchester of some of the 700,000-plus shares of stock that covered part of the paper’s $85 million sale price. Others point to the quarter-after-quarter decline in revenue, reflecting the newspaper industry’s chronic trouble selling ads. But don’t give up yet, says Tribune chief executive officer Jack Griffin, who announced last week that the company would be buying up $30 million of its own stock, thereby presumably buoying its market price. “The stock repurchase program announced today demonstrates our confidence in our Company and underscores our commitment to delivering shareholder value,” Griffin said in an August 18 news release. There are other signs that Griffin and associates believe they’ll have to spend more money if they want to ever make any of it.

The corporation’s website features a help-wanted advertisement for a new U-T senior “environment” reporter. “Do you take on explanatory reporting and watchdog assignments with equal gusto?” the notice asks. “Are you someone who aggressively pursues enterprise stories with a national or even international imprint? Does your definition of environment reporting cover everything from California’s drought and land-use controversies to population control and marine science?”

Continues the ad, “We appreciate a person who possesses speed along with accuracy, depth along with accessibility, lively prose along with expert sourcing.” According to the post, “You’ll be rewarded with a rich palette of stories in San Diego County, a region with 3.1 million people that’s diverse in ecology, special-interest activism and environmental trends urban and rural. This is a high-profile beat that will not disappoint.”

Among other qualifications, the new writer must “show competence with telephone, voice mail, faxes, printers, etc.,” and “have knowledge of libel laws and follow them.” The paper also is looking to hire a new real estate reporter. “The beat includes a range of real estate topics, including buying a home, selling a home, mortgages and financing, and renting,” says a description of the job posted on TalkingBizNews. “There are lots of opportunities for investigations and data journalism.”

On the business side, Tribune bragged in an August 19 stock-boosting PowerPoint presentation to prospective investors that it had, “Printed first edition of San Diego Union-Tribune in Los Angeles approximately three weeks after closing,” and “exited the San Diego production facility.” In addition, the company said it had been “recognized as first publisher to introduce [a] suite of Apple Watch apps for all of its brands.”

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Comments
9

"Printed first edition of SD U-T in LA...". Which is great for fans of the local baseball team in San Diego, hoping any Padres game played at Petco Park ends before 10:15pm so there would be a chance that the boxscore might show up in the sports section the next day.

Aug. 26, 2015

Do they even print box scores in the paper anymore? Why would I want to see one in tiny, almost non-legible print when I can get an in game one and a final one the second the game ends on the Padres website?

Aug. 29, 2015

Sure they do--of all the games that aren't in the Pacific Time Zone that end after 10pm. I don't sit on my computer looking for box scores--although I guess I may have to start doing that since the current version of the SDUT is really starting to suck (even more than before).

Aug. 30, 2015

So when will the staff move out of the building?

Aug. 26, 2015

Gosh, dwbat, you beat me to it. I was wondering if exiting the San Diego production facility of the U-T Mission Valley meant everybody or just printers. When will the staff move out and where will they go? It seems to me that relocation is a pretty big deal in its own right.

Aug. 26, 2015

As someone who has dunned the San Diego Union-Tribune leadership for decades for its suppression of hard data and objective analysis of population-environment connections, I find this advertisement courageous and greatly refreshing. If they get the right person, the UT could become a national leader in expanding understanding of the the environmental degradation that will result from continued US population growth:

<< The corporation’s website features a help-wanted advertisement for a new U-T senior “environment” reporter. “Do you take on explanatory reporting and watchdog assignments with equal gusto?” the notice asks. “Are you someone who aggressively pursues enterprise stories with a national or even international imprint? Does your definition of environment reporting cover everything from California’s drought and land-use controversies to population control and marine science?”>>

Surely the UT leadership is aware that in even using the phrase “population control” they are likely to be attacked by right wing whackos as “commies” and by left wing whackos as “racists.” Kudos to the newly enlarged UT cojones!

As journalism prof Michael Maher pointed out in his 1997 article, “How and why journalists avoid the population environment connection” (see http://link.springer.com/article/10.1007/BF02208512#page-1 OR http://dieoff.org/page118.htm), a great defect of environmental journalism in the US (and most other western nations) is that news stories about environmental problems due in large measure to population growth almost NEVER mention the connection to population growth, let alone the fact that population growth is driven primarily by high immigration rates.

Most media outlets deliberately act to keep the electorate minimally informed on such issues. This is because most of them are lap dogs to the powerful but delusional neoliberal cornucopian economists who dominate the leadership of both the Democratic and Republican parties and whose religion is Growth Forever, both economic and populational, the environment be damned.

Aug. 26, 2015

I am not sure that the UT can survive as long as San Diego is treated as the bastard child of LA. One would think that with the qualifications stated in their ad the job would pay well. I wonder what it does pay?

Aug. 27, 2015

The new ownership did move with great and unseemly haste to shut down the U-T printing plant in Mission Valley and shift the work to the LA area. There was plenty of reason to think that the plant, dating from 1973, was not only obsolete but worn out. That implies, of course, that Copley didn't make improvements during the years that the paper was worth a fortune. (New presses would have been a very costly proposition.) Then again, when circulation had topped out and was dropping, would it have made any sense to modernize the press room?

So, where will the editorial staff of the paper move? Dougie wants his building to have and to hold and do with as he pleases. The paper is probably a good tenant of the part it still occupies, but he has grander things in mind--maybe even demolition and a rebuild.

Aug. 27, 2015

I can hear Dougie's voice now, saying: "I love the smell of bulldozers in the morning."

Aug. 27, 2015

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