How do you make a small fortune in the newspaper business?

You start with a large one!

According to an SEC filing, when Tribune Publishing picked up those 38 Sun-Times suburban properties late last month, they paid $23.5 million for the privilege. Meanwhile, back in 2000, the Sun-Times paid Copley Newspapers $120 million just for the Beacon-News, Courier-News, Naperville News-Sun, and the Joliet Herald-News.

If you extrapolate that kind of loss across the newspaper board, it comes out to an astonishing 90 percent decline in value in just 14 years. That’s what you call a depression folks! The sad thing is, there was a time when owning a newspaper was a license to print money.

To be fair, despite all their flowery fourth estate proclamations, in the end, a newspaper is nothing more than just another business. But even with that caveat clearly stipulated, I can’t help but feel the platitudes coming out of both camps are the height of disingenuosity – which I’m pretty sure isn’t even a real word.

CT-BIZ-TRIBUNE_CTMAIN 0712 SROf course, the massive irony is, those words are being issued by the very folks whose staff would leap on a faltering company’s doubletalk like a leopard on a wounded wildebeest. So with that thought in mind, please allow me to employ my vast journalistic experience and exceptionally accurate BS-O-Meter (also not a word) to translate some of these bromides back into the common vernacular:

Tribune CEO Tony Hunter: “We’re thrilled to add these great iconic titles to the Chicago Tribune Media Group.”

Translated: “After being spun off from the main company with a $350 million debt parting gift, we had to do something to appear to still be relevant. We also wanted to distract folks from our most recent corporate suicide attempt consisting of doubling our print subscription rates.

Wrapports Chairman Michael Ferro: “This transaction allows Wrapports to focus on our international digital strategy and to financially strengthen the Chicago Sun-Times.”

Translated: “If we didn’t get a quick infusion of cash we were finished. Since we don’t have AOL money in reserve, we needed something to pursue our digital strategy which mirrors the failed Patch experiment and doesn’t stand a chance in hell of succeeding.”

CEO of Tribune Publishing Jack Griffin: “This acquisition represents an important step forward for Tribune Publishing Co. and Chicago Tribune Media Group. It supports our stated strategy of leveraging our existing infrastructure, resources and management teams to drive growth for our company.”

Translated: “This is the best we could do with the paltry $50 million in cash we have on hand. In our hearts, we know that buying a bigger piece of a shrinking market can’t be called growth and it isn’t a viable business model either.”

Tony Hunter: “It’s also exciting to establish a new long-term relationship with the Chicago Sun-Times and to ink the print and distribution deal.”

Translated: “The only way we were ever going to see a dime of the vast amount of money the Sun-Times already owes us was to agree to this deal. You can’t collect a debt from a dead man.”

Tribune Publishing spokesman Matthew Hutchison: “No changes are expected and we welcome them (former Sun-Times employees) into the (Chicago Tribune Media Group) family.”

Translated: “As soon as we think no one’s paying attention anymore, we’re going to lay off two-thirds of those 150 employees because they’re redundant and salaries are our biggest single line item. And the staffers working under the old salary structure will be first.”

Jack Griffin: “We have reach in the suburbs now, but this gives us more reach, deeper reach, with really good brands that we’re acquiring.”

Translated: “The Trib-local experiment has failed miserably. This is our last shot at trying to take some dwindling market share from Paddock Publications.”

Jack Griffin: “We think it’s very rational, very sensible and it will be another good test for us and the ability to demonstrate that this kind of activity makes sense for the company and ultimately, our shareholders.”

Translated: “This move makes absolutely no sense and not even we believe a word we’re saying.”

Please note how, especially in Jack Griffin’s case, Tribune management consistently reuses the same words – “reach” and “sense” for example which, when combined with the overuse of emphasis terms like “really” and “very” are signs that someone’s being deceitful. (Please see the book Liespotting by Pamela Meyer.)

I’m not saying they’re lying outright, but they’re certainly not nearly as excited about this acquisition as they’re desperately trying to appear to be. Based on that observation, I’m willing to predict Tribune Publishing isn’t going to be putting any serious money into these suburban newspapers either.

Whatever happens, it will certainly be interesting to watch this story unfold.

2 thoughts on “How do you make a small fortune in the newspaper business?

  1. Kinda like the old farmer who won six million dollars in the Lottery.

    When asked what he would do with all that money, he replied:

    “I guess I’ll just keep on farming until it’s all gone.”

  2. Pingback: A tip of our hat to Jim Romenesko! | The First Ward

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