The Platinum Equity firm, which recently bought The San Diego Union-Tribune, is known for buying troubled companies, slashing budgets, then selling them once they’ve turned around. It’s a way of doing business that inspires confidence in those who value efficiency and profit ahead of all else.
But in an interview published today, the firm’s top boss suggested that his vision for the U-T is more complicated.
“It’s a very community-based product, and we want to be positive and find a way to make an impact,” CEO Tom Gores told The Boston Globe. “The last thing we want is people thinking we’re coming in to screw up the community, make a few bucks, and then leave.”
Platinum Equity is in the running to buy the Globe, a widely respected newspaper that has fallen on hard times along with the rest of the newspaper industry.
The story, a profile of Platinum Equity, paints a familiar picture of the company as one focused on quick turnarounds: It’s “known for buying struggling units of Fortune 500 companies and quickly cleaning house, cutting jobs, and honing the company’s product focus.”
That strategy is definitely afoot at the U-T, where an estimated 28 percent of employees have been laid off since Platinum Equity took over. “We’ve definitely made progress in establishing a healthier company,” Gores said.
Indeed, executives told employees in August that the newspaper expects to make a profit this year.
But the profit may come at a cost. Dean Nelson, a journalism professor at Point Loma Nazarene University, tells the Globe that the U-T is “trying to do more stories with a faster turnaround, but they’re not delving into the more nuanced complex issues people care about.”
Brian Cragin, who worked as a U-T technology editor until he was laid off, said: “When you continue to shrink and shrink and shrink, you’re just asking people to shovel at some point. You just can’t produce quality.”
But U-T employees interviewed for the story like what they see from the new owners:
They said the firm’s executives quickly invested in computerized technology to replace a long-outmoded method of assembling the paper each day, and have already put it on stronger financial footing.
“They are smart businessmen who see the value of what journalism brings,” said Robert York, a senior editor at the Union-Tribune. “They came in here with a plan and their ears open, and so far it seems to be working.”
The Globe story also takes a look at the 45-year-old Gores himself, saying he “seems to embrace the image of the Hollywood mogul” but had his reputation tarnished when he got enmeshed in a scandal involving his brother’s wife.
The story includes a photo of Gores in a pinstriped suit, with his shirt unbuttoned to show off his chest. It inspired a media critic to say he looks “like he’s starring in the community-theater remake of ‘Saturday Night Fever.’”
“Gores comes across as an exceedingly unlikely candidate to stabilize the Globe’s finances while preserving its journalism.” writes the critic, Dan Kennedy.
He prefers that another bidder, which includes members of the family that used to own the paper, buy the Globe instead of Platinum Equity: “I’d certainly feel better if the Taylor group prevails. Yes, the Globe has to succeed as a business. But with the Taylors, I’m more confident that managers would seek to define the journalistic mission first, then figure out how to pay for it.”