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The Beginning of the End of Competing Newspapers in LA

Ron Kaye: The corporate rules of journalism sucked the life out of newspapering, eliminating the kind of robust wars when there 12 newspapers in New York, eight in LA, six in Chicago with multiple owners and very different points of view.
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The end is near for the Daily News and several other newspapers in the LA market owned by Denver's Dean Singleton, the Denver media mogul whose holding company is filing for bankruptcy.

Birds and Newspapers

Many papers in the MediaNews chain ran a company press release that buried the bankruptcy, saying Singleton's holding company, Affiliated Media, had cut a deal with creditors holding nearly $1 billion in virtually worthless paper.

The deal will leave Singleton and his management still in charge but in control of only 20 percent of the stock. That will reduce the burden of debt to just $165 million, according to the Wall Street Journal, which the company's value at $200 million and noted it is the seventh newspaper company to file for bankrupty, including the LA Times and Orange County Register.

The Wall Street Journal reported what the MediaNews announcement did not: What Singleton plans to do now.

"Singleton said he wanted to try to be the aggressor in merging newspapers. cleaning up the company's debt load allows him to help lead newspaper-industry consolidation," the WSJ reported.

"People in the industry have pointed to MediaNews's paper in St. Paul and the Star Tribune in Minneapolis as potential candidates for a combination, as well as to adjacent papers in Southern California published by MediaNews, Tribune Co. and Freedom Communications Inc. There are potential regulatory hurdles to some newspaper combinations."

When asked which newspapers might be combined, Mr. Singleton answered: "You can look at the map."

If you look at the LA map you will see Singleton owns the South Bay Breeze, the Long Beach Press-Telegram, the Whittier Daily News, Pasadena Star-News, San Gabriel Valley Tribune, Inland Valley Bulletin, and San Bernardino Sun.

In the past 10 years, Singleton has tried to consolidate many operations of those papers, then backed off and tried various other strategies without success, hit hard by the decline of newspapers and more recently the recession.

The Hearst Corp. has been his principal benefactor over those years, buying the Daily News offices and other property from MediaNews and partnering in some newspapers. The WSJ, in reporting details about the bankruptcy, said Hearst had a $400 million stake.

What the implications of the deal and Singleton's "merger" and consolidation" comments is this: There just isn't enough money in newspapers to allow for competition, even the pretense of competition.

Hearst and MediaNews own almost all the newspapers in the Bay Area, for instance, from San Francisco to San Jose, Contra Costa and Oakland -- all of them crippled by debt and falling revenue.

The entire LA market is owned by MediaNews and Tribune Co., through in the bankrupt Register and you have Orange County with options in San Bernardino and possibly Riverside County.

It's noteworthy that the San Diego Union-Tribune bought last year cheaply without heavy debt is believed to have become profitable again as staff was and the operation scaled back.

That is the point. One paper without competition can thrive for a good many years even in the face of the Internet and the lack of younger readers. Two or more cannot.

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So look for deals quickly.

It's not a coincidence that the Times just took over printing the Wall St. Journal and others papers, forcing it to move to early deadlines as the Daily News did several years ago.

The predicate of the deals are already in place and you can be sure a lot of negotiations have been going on behind the scenes for a long time.

The only obstacle to the Times taking over the whole LA market and potentially salvaging the existing papers nameplates in localized editions is the U.S. Justice Department and laws against monopolies.

As someone who worked in corporate journalism for four decades and bristled against its homogenizing of the news, you can take my word for it that there hasn't been much competitive journalism in newspapers for most of those years.

The corporate rules of journalism sucked the life out of newspapering, eliminating the kind of robust wars when there 12 newspapers in New York, eight in LA, six in Chicago with multiple owners and very different points of view.

One monopoly newspaper in major cities is sustainable and should have been done several years ago before staffs were gutted, talent and skill lost and the value to readers diminished.

Many will lament the loss of competition but competition has been an illusion for years and there should only be a brief mourning period for newspapers that lived a long and prosperous life and died of old age.

One healthy mainstream corporate newspaper can do things we will never be able to achieve on the Internet.


Most of all, they can provide a singular place for a shared experience available to everyone for an overview of who and what we are, an overview sanitized by the so-called objectivity they provide.

And they will have the resources to send teams of reporters out on the big stories like earthquakes and catastrophes of one sort or another and to develop staff with highly specialized skills and experience in specific areas.

The real question is whether they will provide an over-arching vision that will bring vast and complex metropolitan areas together.

For our city, that has always been the problem. The Times has failed to offer a vision of greater LA that is inclusive and reflective of the incredible complexity of the region, geographically, ethnically, demographically and all the social, cultural and political ways we differentiate ourselves.

That is where the value to readers and advertisers is -- and where the money is for publishers.

Ron Kaye

Republished with permission from Ron Kaye L.A.