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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.

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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.

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6

My sources say that the only people allowed to talk to potential buyers are Gene Bell and Bill Nagel. Nagel used to head the Circulation department and now is in charge of "revenue streams" ... whatever the hell that is. Not being allowed to chat up potnetial owners has left HR Queen Bobbie Espinosa and Newsdoll Karin Winner steaming. More, the buyout memo called for two heads to come off the HR department... but no one took it. This leaves Espinosa, who generally avoids all confrontation, to select who gets rolled.

Sept. 24, 2008

Response to post #1: CityBeat's report is consistent with the scenario that I have sketched on this blog. And CityBeat added some interesting details, such as the ratio of chiefs to Indians. Best, Don Bauder

Sept. 24, 2008

Response to post #2: At some point, Hal Fuson, COO and effectively CEO, would have to enter the discussions. Evercore Partners, which was hired to effectuate the sale, would do the negotiating. In re HR: If Espinosa selects whose heads get rolled, you can be sure of one thing: one of those heads won't be Espinosa's. Best, Don Bauder

Sept. 24, 2008

UT Editor and La Jolla Socialite Karin Winner will be 64 in December. I imagine her journalism days are ending, as new owners would be unlikely to want to continue her brand of readership-losing news. Your thoughts, Don?

Sept. 29, 2008

Response to post #5: The Union-Tribune's coziness with the La Jolla/Rancho Santa Fe establishment over many decades has been one of the sources of its downfall. In the 30 years that I was there, the establishment member -- be it C. Arnholt Smith or some biotech executive -- who complained to management over a story normally got whatever satisfaction he/she sought. Generally speaking, the reporter was wrong and the nabob was right. Reporters have always read -- and probably continue to read -- Burl Stiff's column to learn what establishment member is snug with what U-T executive. This is a major reason the newspaper has little credibility, and is one reason for the stark decline in market share. However, the biggest reasons for the collapse are demographic and technological factors that are hurting other metro dailies. I think this answers your perceptive question without pointing any specific fingers. Best, Don Bauder

Sept. 29, 2008

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