Friday, March 21, 2008

As If Newsday Staffers Didn't Have Enough To Worry About

Rupert or Mort Could Quarterback A "Joint Venture" and Give Sam Zell a Little Breathing Room

Tribune high priest Sam Zell has said he didn't want to sell any of his newspaper properties after he bought the company.
But Zell says a lot of things, some of them meaningful, others profane, and some he has had to backtrack on. Some of that's understandable, as advertising revenue continues to shrink -- and this once-mighty bastion of journalism leaks vats of red ink.
So, now comes opportunity, in the form of a possible sale of Newsday , which could fetch $350 million and up.
And in the hunt are Mortimer (Daily News) Zuckerman and Rupert (Post) Murdoch, who the Times described as being interested in a joint venture.
Oh, yeah, there's also James Dolan of Cablevision, but despite that company's deep pockets, Dolan has proved himself to be a doofus of the first order in his stewardship of Madison Square Garden, in particular the woeful Knicks. He knows newspapers like I know quantum physics.
So, let's stick with Mort and Rupe. Obviously, they're looking, initially, to find a way to broaden their reach to advertisers and maybe hurdle the other to oblivion once and for all. And despite its diminished size and stature, Newsday -- despite its previous lies about its circulation -- is still the 10th-largest newspaper in the country and primarily serves two of the country's wealthiest counties.
So, it could make sense from a business standpoint, not to mention a salve for the raging egos of this pair.
But I'd worry, as I'm sure many Newsday editors and reporters do, as to what a joint venture could morph into -- not the least of which is an eventual outright purchase.
First, you're merging ad staffs and back-office operations. Then, hey, as long as we're at it, do we really need to send reporters from both papers on the road to cover the Mets? Couldn't we get by with two fewer reporters covering eastern Suffolk? Couldn't one theatre critic suffice? Etcetera.
Chicken Little? Don't think so, if you look at what's left of the Media News-owned newspapers in California that have had their staffs eviscerated by "Lean Dean" Singleton. It could happen out east if things get bad enough, and despite the economies of scale that a joint venture could bring, it may not be enough in the long run to stop the outflow of circulation and ads.
Having read the paper for parts of four decades, I know first-hand that Newsday was a great newspaper. Now it is merely good. Still better than most, but with the latest round of buyouts, traveling in the wrong direction to a fork in the road, where Murdoch or Zuckerman anxiously wait.

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