Skip to comments.Courant In Rumor Mill (Dinosaur Media DeathWatch™)
Posted on 09/27/2006 8:15:34 AM PDT by abb
Shake-Up At Tribune Co. Sparks Talk Of Sale
By MATTHEW KAUFFMAN Courant Staff Writer
September 27 2006
The sale of The Courant, which has emerged as a possible element in the radical shake-up of its parent, Tribune Co., could dramatically alter the media landscape in Connecticut. But newspaper analysts say the sheer breadth of Tribune's options as it redefines itself - spinning off TV stations, taking the company private, retreating to its core assets - makes it difficult to divine the fate of the nation's oldest newspaper.
And against that uncertainty comes yet another possibility: Tuesday, the family of David Chase, one of the region's wealthiest businessmen, said they would be interested in assembling a group of local investors to scoop up The Courant if the price were right.
"My father has definitely expressed an interest," said Cheryl Chase, executive vice president and general counsel of Chase Enterprises. "If the paper were to go on the market, he definitely has expressed an interest in trying to get a group together to buy it. Now, how realistic that is in today's day and age, I don't know."
Chase said she suspected the paper would cost at least several hundred million dollars, but said her family had not taken an in-depth look at the numbers to see if a bid for The Courant would make economic sense. But she said her father had spoken informally with other potential investors, who she said were enthusiastic about the prospect of local ownership.
"When you're dealing with a smaller group and a locally based group, and not a public company, you're not driven by shareholder needs and watching the stock all the time, which I think would be a benefit," she said. "No one's going to do this without a nice return on their investment, so it's silly to think you would get somebody not oriented to a profit. On the other hand, I see local ownership as being very beneficial because it's very caring. It is our community, we're here."
The Chases, who formerly owned WTIC-TV, Channel 61, and WTIC-AM and FM radio stations, typically have achieved that nice return on their investments. David Chase was instrumental in bringing cable television to Poland with a company called @Entertainment Inc. In 1999, he sold the company, in which his family had a 30 percent stake, for $1.5 billion.
Roger Desmond, a journalism professor at the University of Hartford, said chain ownership allows papers to share content both in print and on the Web. And deep corporate profits allow papers to finance innovative ideas, such as the Chicago Tribune's free Red Eye paper aimed at 20-somethings. But with distant corporate owners drawing away local profits and having fewer ties to the community, he believes the scale tips in favor of local ownership in serving readers.
"They won't see a difference in straight news [between corporate and local ownership]. They won't see a difference in Page A1. But they may see a newspaper that has a magazine," Desmond said, referring to the recent decision to discontinue The Courant's Sunday magazine, NE. "Because that magazine cut, everybody knows, was not a content decision, it was a financial decision."
Tribune owns 11 daily newspapers, 25 television stations, cable network Superstation WGN, Chicago's WGN-AM radio and the Chicago Cubs.
The concept of finding value in The Courant as a stand-alone property comes in sharp contrast to the philosophy that spawned Tribune's acquisition of the paper in the $8.2 billion takeover of Times-Mirror. While the company at the time saw economies of scale and synergy in a nationwide media empire with newspapers and television stations, Tribune now appears to be retreating from that stance.
Tribune, like many other media companies that own newspapers, has fallen out of favor with investors as advertising and circulation revenue have declined.
Fueled by Wall Street's dissatisfaction with the corporation's dismal stock performance, Tribune's board of directors held a closed-door meeting last week and emerged to announce the creation of an independent committee "to oversee management's exploration of alternatives for creating additional value for shareholders."
To many, that corporate-speak signaled that Chairman and CEO Dennis J. FitzSimons was no longer opposed to breaking up the company, if it would boost a stock price that had fallen 40 percent since the beginning of 2004.
"If you take Dennis' statement at face value, everything is on the table," said Ed Atorino, an analyst with Benchmark Co. "What Wall Street wants Dennis to do is get the stock price up. Wall Street doesn't care how he does it."
And unnamed sources told Tribune's flagship paper, the Chicago Tribune, that one of those ways could involve unloading its papers in Connecticut - The Courant, the Advocate of Stamford and the Greenwich Time. The Chicago paper reported that Tribune had discussed selling the papers to MediaNews Group, a company that includes the Denver Post, but that talks were "not active."
Vivian Chow, The Courant's vice president for human resources and corporate affairs, said the paper "cannot provide any information to lend credence that The Courant is being evaluated for sale."
A spokesman for Tribune said the company does not comment on media speculation, and MediaNews Group did not respond to an e-mail seeking comment.
The Los Angeles Times added to the speculation, citing a respected newspaper analyst as saying the Journal-Register Co., owner of the New Haven Register and other Connecticut papers, could be interested in buying Tribune's Connecticut papers.
But the analyst, John Morton of Morton Research Inc. in Maryland, said this week that he never said he thought the Journal-Register Co. could end up with The Courant, saying he mentioned only the Stamford and Greenwich papers.
"I never mentioned The Hartford Courant. I never said that," Morton said. "I don't believe The Hartford Courant would be on the list that might be sold."
The Journal Register Co. has also struggled with a falling stock price, closing at $5.89 per share Tuesday, far off highs of $18 to $20 a share over the past few years.
Various stock analysts in the last week have speculated that the Los Angeles Times would be sold, while others have said it would not. Some say a company-sponsored leveraged buyout - in which Tribune management would engineer the sale of assets and borrow money to finance taking the company private - is a likelihood, while others have said it is not. Even Tribune's famed gothic tower in downtown Chicago might be in play.
Contract Matthew Kauffman at email@example.com
Analyst: Potential Tribune Moves Unlikely to Raise Share Value
By Jennifer Saba
Published: September 27, 2006 11:10 AM ET
NEW YORK Despite the Tribune Company's announcement last week that it is "exploring strategic alternatives," it's unlikely any potential move will provide an upside to shareholders, according to a report released by Merrill Lynch this morning.
Analyst Lauren Rich Fine models several different paths Tribune could take ultimately coming to this conclusion: "We have not been able to uncover substantial value in any scenario."
For starters, if the Tribune board decides to put the whole company up for sale it's doubtful that buyers will step forward given the company's size and unresolved cross ownership issues. Taking the Knight Ridder sale under consideration where only one strategic player and one private equity group came forward doesn't bode well.
Merrill Lynch thinks theoretically, Tribune could fetch about $50 per share based on a multiple of 10 times 2007 estimated EBITDA for its newspaper assets and 12 times for its TV stations. "However, realistically, we do not think this scenario is likely at all owing to a lack of likely buyers."
The research firm doesn't think private equity has "much to offer" since there are no obvious candidates for new management.
Merrill Lynch estimates Tribune's newspaper properties generate margins of 23.2% (2006 EBITDA), which are only slightly below industry averages of 24% to 25%. (Incidentally, margins for the Los Angeles Times are estimated at 21%)
For all the hubbub going on at the Los Angeles Times, Tribune could get dinged for selling it off (or other individual papers) given the company's low tax basis. This could explain why "Tribune management seems to be reluctant to sell the Los Angeles Times despite reported interest from local billionaires."
"Out of all the value scenarios, a spin-off of Tribune's TV operations seems the most promising, if a case can be made that Tribune can achieve the high end of pure-play TV comparables' valuation," wrote Fine. Standing in the way, the note points out are taxes and obvious buyers.
Jennifer Saba (firstname.lastname@example.org) is associate editor at E&P.
These once powerful left wing mediots are now just whining left wing lunatics in peril of losing their paycheck.
Few if any of them have any marketable skills.
This is great!!
The question is "why"? ...
Aha! I think I got it... A huge herd of socialist traitors will no longer be able craft their leftist fairy tales as gospel truth!
Thanks for the ping... I'll alert the CT list.
Thanks for the heads up, blue-duncan.
Please Freepmail me if you want on or off my infrequent Connecticut ping list.
David Chase is a wonderful man who used to own Channel 61 TV in Connecticut. He is an Orthodox Jew, a pro-lifer (even pro-Rescue privately), a Holocaust survivor and an enemy of most things liberal. If the Courant falls into his hands, it would be huge as the Courant (a leftist birdcage liner) is Connecticut's newspaper of record. The only downside is that Chase must be very old, at least 75 but I would bet anything that he has brought up his children to follow in his distinguished and conservative footsteps. May he and they be blessed in everything they do.
If the New Haven Register or Journal-Register Corp. were to buy the Courant, it would be a tragedy since it is an airhead, pro-left organization under present owndership.
If David Chase could acquire the Stamford Advocate and Greenwich Time as part of the package along with the Courant, it would be a conservative grand slam!
If the ownership changes to local hands I suspect it will still be the same pile of birdcage liner it is today.
I only bought the Courant when I was unemployed
The last time I bought it was when they posted the picture of Rep Greybar kissing his boyfriend in the Sunday Parade section
A few journalists on the right tail of MSM's Bell curve probably stand a fairly good shot at becoming pizza boys.
Here's Hoping This Treasured Paper Is Always Free To Be Au Courant
September 29 2006
Dear David Chase,
You don't know me, but I am a 20-year employee of The Hartford Courant, America's oldest continuously published newspaper, a newspaper that I love and one that represents an idea that I love even more.
I am writing because there is talk that you and your family are considering purchasing The Courant, or at least considering being part of a new ownership team should The Courant's present owner, Tribune Co., sell.
We can get into a discussion about the merits of local vs. absentee ownership of America's media - and I'd be happy to do that. Call me? But what I'd like to do is talk about the kind of boss I want to work for. That is cheeky of me, I know. But after 27 years in the news business, cheeky is all I've got.
When newspapers do what we're supposed to do, we are a vital part of our democracy, as much a part of the landscape as town meetings and campaign signs. When we are hitting our marks, people want The Courant in their homes. They may throw us across the room in anger some mornings, but they keep coming back. When we fulfill our mission - to use the highest journalistic standards to inform our fellow citizens about what is going on so they can make good decisions about their lives - we create a product that sells itself.
In this I am a big fan of that old populist John Dewey when he answered Walter Lippmann's call for an oligarchy back in the last century.
Dewey, a Vermont native, said an oligarchy is precisely what we don't need, and even though it is true, as Lippmann said, that democracy is a messy and tedious business, the alternative is something far less. Dewey knew that, to have a true democracy, we must have an unencumbered press. Otherwise we have a citizenry that relies too much on self-proclaimed experts. Otherwise we have a disenfranchised citizenry that can't even bother to vote; we have a society whose members all go slurp from the corporate trough, content when we ought to be angry, and angry when our favorite reality show is interrupted for a news break.
And the reading public sees right through it when we don't do our jobs.
(Can you hear, as do I, the strains of "This Land Is Your Land" swelling in the background? Cue the band, won't you?)
I'm sorry. It's hard not to get corny in this, the only job I ever wanted. My idea of democracy was forged watching my grandfather - Lloyd Marrs, Citizen - shake out the Joplin Globe every morning while he listened to the radio farm reports. You read the newspaper, and you go vote; read the newspaper, and go vote.
Here is where you come in. Knowing the local landscape as you do, you can set realistic profit goals. You can give allegiance to your hometown company and pour more of its profits - and we always make a profit - back into the enterprise. You can attend to the business end of things and then - and I mean this with the greatest respect - step the hell back and let us do our jobs. History is littered with the corpses of rich men who wanted to dabble in journalism. Journalism is not for dabblers.
And if you take the plunge, I can promise you this: The Courant will be like no other property you've owned. You will have employees who are tenacious and question everything - at least we're supposed to. You may not understand why we are so contentious, but at least you'll have fun.
And you will - I promise - make money.
My fondest prayer has been that distant owners will finally tire of us, as a cat will with a mouse. Local ownership isn't the only answer to pulling us from our much-publicized unease, but I think it's a good start. So yes. Cue the band.
Susan Campbell is at scampbell@ courant.com. or 860-241-6454.
More dinosaur noise. It's almost a continuous bellow - much like a cattle stampede...
Topic: Letters Sent to Romenesko
Date/Time: 9/29/2006 12:58:30 PM
Title: If Journal Register buys the Courant...
Posted By: Jim Romenesko
From FRANK SPENCER-MOLLOY: Newspaper analyst John Morton says that a flailing Tribune Co. is less likely to sell off a prestigious giant such as The Los Angeles Times. It is more apt to cut loose smaller papers and cites in particular The Hartford Courant, Stamford Advocate and Greenwich Time. These, he says, would be a likely acquisition by the Journal Register Co., which already owns several Connecticut newspapers.
If so, this will augur the end of days for journalism in Connecticut. News will be what floats in over the transom and comes across the police-radio band. What remains of investigative and in-depth critical beat reporting, already seriously eroded, will disappear, if the Journal Registers longtime minimalist modus were to be adopted at The Courant, the states largest paper by far.
Over the past decade the last six under Tribune dominion The Courant has hemorrhaged people and quality, perhaps to an extent greater than any other Tribune paper. Editors disbanded the specialties desk (where I once worked) and cut back or dissolved beats in law, courts, environment, medicine, consumer affairs and public-utilities. State capital coverage has shrunk, and a number of suburbs that once got daily coverage get less or none. A Sunday magazine-like section was just killed. The movie reviewer is no more.
Still, the paper seems to have committed to continue doing some investigations and published earlier this year a fine series exploring the militarys combat use of mentally ill soldiers. But in the event of a Journal Register takeover, expect these, too, to be cut, accompanied by further across-the-board bleeding out.
This takeover would deepen further the news vacuum for Connecticut citizens, who deserve to know more about their state than can be conveyed by the nightly house fire TV news opens its broadcast with.
It will also diminish the public forum in which newspapers and the public express their opinions. Connecticut is a blue state, but you wouldnt know that by reading the editorial pages of the states newspapers. Although the state voted two-to-one for the Democratic presidential ticket in 2000, virtually all the states dailies backed Bush. That includes the anti-union, anti-consumer Courant editorial board, which is so reflexively pro-business, it might as well have a dedicated incoming-fax line from the U.S. Chamber of Commerce.
That will only get worse if Journal Register rules the state. Its papers already toe the companys centralized conservative line, going so far as to publish the same editorials in its different papers.
It will be sad day all around.