May 21, 2009

Seeing need for local ownership, former owner buys back small daily paper he sold 21 years ago

Gene Hall of Charles City, Iowa, sold the Charles City Press 21 years ago. About a month ago, he and his wife Cathy bought it back, along with the New Hampton Tribune and associated publications. This week, in the Iowa Newspaper Association Bulletin, he explains why, and it's a terrific testimony to the value of local newspaper ownership. There are good chain-owned papers, but Hall has seen the bad side of both forms of ownership, and with the newspaper business in turmoil, his reflections are quite timely.

"I am coming more to the realization that in order for community papers to be the best they can be they must be locally operated and better yet, locally owned," Hall writes. "I repurchased the paper I sold some 21 years ago because this is my paper in my community and I care. I’m essentially a private owner of a public trust and I feel good about that." With a circulation of 2,800, the Press is one of the smallest daily newspapers in the country. (Encarta map)

Hall opines, "The business model of community/local newspapers is still strong and will remain so. What is broken is the capital structure caused by way too much debt; unrealistic profit goals set by private equity owners; operational plans put in place by “Wall Street” analysts whose lack of knowledge and experience in the business is only exceeded by their shortsightedness."

Hall notes that he was "a corporate officer in a publicly traded media company for more than 15 years." His piece doesn't name the companies, but he told us that they were, in succession, Hollinger, Liberty Group and GateHouse Media. "Never was there a meaningful discussion about the product being germane to the community. Never a sentence about putting something back into the product or community," he recalls. "What has and is ruining American media is that, like even baseball, it came to be run solely as a business. Newspapers are more than a business. They have obligations and responsibilities far beyond what a big-box retail store or a widget manufacturer has. ... Big business has corrupted a sacred covenant. Care must be taken with a commodity so central to democracy." (Read more, via RuralJournalism.org; this item is also posted to The Rural Blog)

1 comment:

Doug Fisher said...

Great post, Al. Thanks.