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The Platinum Equity firm may be providing the money to buy The San Diego Union-Tribune, but Canadian publisher David Black will also apparently be central in running things. In an interview posted today, he provides a glimpse into the kind of journalism he likes.
“I don’t have to go to a mountaintop and reflect for months to figure out some of the basics in our business,” Black told The (Toronto) Globe and Mail. “It can’t be gray. It has to be colorful, local, entertaining, topical and witty.”
The Globe and Mail also explores how the U-T deal came together:
Several months ago, Black Press bumped up against private equity player Platinum Equity bidding for unnamed properties. They discovered they had entwined interests and complementary skills: Mr. Black knew the business, and Platinum had a lot of money — its funds have attracted more than $3-billion in funds.
So Mr. Black, individually, teamed up with Platinum, and they won the Union-Tribune, whose roots date to the 1860s.
In what appears to be a new bit of information, the story adds that Black is a “director” with Platinum Equity.
Over at the Los Angeles Times, an executive at Platinum Equity compared his company to firefighters in an analogy he might now regret:
“This is a market that is undergoing substantial upheaval and transition, and we intend to try to help the paper redefine, reinvent and reorient itself,” said Mark Barnhill, a principal at Platinum. “That doesn’t just mean scaling downward — we try to grow our businesses. If other folks are running out of a burning building, we’re running into it.”
The LA Times also reports that newsroom staffers had an inkling of the sale ahead of its announcement on Wednesday morning: “speculation the night before had led to a mass Google search of Platinum.”
Elsewhere on the internet:
- On his blog, North County Times business writer Bradley J. Fikes ponders the U-T sale: “What does it mean to a city when the family that has owned your newspaper since God was a babe sells out?”
Fikes briefly explores the Copley history, including details about how publisher David C. Copley often found himself in a pickle. Fikes also gets perspective from Tom Rosenstiel, director of the Project for Excellence in Journalism:
The key to what Platinum Equity will do, Rosenstiel said, is whether the firm sees newspapers as a declining market, or a transitioning one.
“If they see them as declining, what private equity firms typically do is cut costs and they might operate this business for the cash flow,” Rosenstiel said. “There’s still a lot of cash in newspapers.
“But if they see it as a transitioning business, then that might suggest they’re interested in building up the operation, strengthening its market share, and experimenting with new revenue models,” Rosenstiel said.
“We don’t know what’s their time horizon for return on investment, and how much debt they’re taking on,” he said.
- Business analyst Joel West summarizes news coverage on the Seeking Alpha blog and speculates about Platinum Equity’s motives in buying the U-T, including the possibility that it simply wants the paper’s real estate holdings.
“This latter possibility would not be encouraging for either newspaper employees or the San Diego public,” West writes. “When private equity firms bought Mervyn’s, they sold the real estate at a profit and left the department store to wither into bankruptcy.”