Mendo Media Goes Pop

by Tim Stelloh, January 18, 2010

The company that owns most of the newspapers in Mendocino County--along with most print media in Northern California--is filing for chapter 11 bankruptcy.

Via the LA Times:

The company said Friday that it would file a reorganization plan already approved by lenders in a bid to emerge from bankruptcy more quickly...MediaNews Group Chairman William Dean Singleton said company management, newspaper operations, employees and vendors wouldn't be affected by the Denver holding company's restructuring.

Not that there's anyone left to layoff.  Singleton, after all, is Mr. Corporate Media himself--the man who consolidated Northern California's print media into a near monolith, a sprawling blob of understaffed "properties;" the man who once said he'd rather please one banker than a thousand journalists; the man who moved the Connecticut newsroom where I once worked into the attic of a Bed, Bath & Beyond as soon as the deal was done.

So what, then, will chapter 11 mean for our local press? According to the Daily Journal, Singleton said it'll give MediaNews "one of the strongest balance sheets in the industry" and "breathing space to create a new model for the newspapers we publish."

Right. If MediaNews's old business model was any indication, we can only imagine what that "new" one might look like...Goodbye Willits, Mendocino, Ukiah and Fort Bragg--hello Bangalore!

One Response to Mendo Media Goes Pop

  1. Mark Scaramella Reply

    January 18, 2010 at 1:29 pm

    Not to be too insiderish, but we dug up a bit more about Singleton and MediaNews:

    MEDIA NEWS GROUP, the fiercely anti-union Denver-based newspaper chain owned by media magnate William Dean Singleton, announced last week that they were filing for Chapter 11 bankruptcy. Singleton’s newsgroup owns the Ukiah Daily Journal, the Willits News, the Mendocino Beacon and the Fort Bragg Advocate, which may be up for “consolidation” as part of the bankruptcy reorganization. The bankruptcy filing is described in the press as “prepackaged,” i.e., Singleton’s many investors have signed off on the deal which will bring Singleton’s excess debt load of about $930 million down to only $165 million. $590 million of that is owed to “senior lenders,” of which $400 million is the Hearst corporation (which owns the San Francisco Chronicle, among others). According to the Wall Street Journal the $400 million Singleton owes Hearst is being “wiped out.” (That was the $400 million Hearst gave Singleton to buy up most of the chain papers in the SF Bay Area.) Another big loser is Bank of America which foolishly loaned Singleton well over $100 million. The rest of the debt reduction is being accomplished by simply giving his other investors (worthless) MediaNewsGroup stock in exchange for payment. Singleton bluntly added, “Current shareholders will be losing the value of their holdings.” The deal will leave Singleton and his business partner Joseph “Jody” Lodovic IV, with only 20% ownership of the company, but that 20% is of “primary shares,” meaning the owners of the 80% don’t have any real say in the company’s business operations. Singleton insists that the deal won’t affect the operations of the papers he owns, hardly a credible claim. But, when asked what kinds of consolidations were under consideration, Singleton replied, “Just look at the map.”

    THE BUSINESS PRESS basically says that Singleton got so carried away in buying up newspapers that he borrowed too much money to do it. Many people have wondered how he was going to pay for all those newspaper acquisitions. Now it’s clear: he’s not going to pay back his investors. He’s simply stiffing them. Singleton now owns a de facto news organization monopoly across several states, and in Mendocino County, and he got it for about 20 cents on the dollar — and he still controls the company even though he only owns 20% of it. Charles Hurwitz, eat your heart out.

    SINGLETON also owns the AP Wire Service, a factoid we only recently discovered. So besides owning most of the chain papers on the West Coast of the United States and all the chain papers in Mendocino County, Singleton’s organization decides what wire stories will be fed to most of the other papers, including the many wire stories in the New York Times-owned Santa Rosa Press Democrat. And who is William Dean Singleton? A self-described “Texas farm boy” whose politics are somewhere to the right of Rupert Murdoch, Singleton is the guy who asked Obama what he was going to do about “Obama bin Laden” to his face at an AP press conference in mid-2008. Obama, ever the cool customer, said, “I think that’s Osama bin Laden.” Singleton, unconvincingly apologized for his “Barney Fag” style gaff, then Obama said, “No, that’s OK. I’ve come to expect that kind of thing in last few months.”

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