Billy Dean Singleton (pictured) “looms large as a potential buyer” of Knight Ridder’s four Northern California newspapers, the rival SF Chronicle reported this morning. If Singleton’s ANG newspapers in the Bay Area (daily combined circ of 297,952) were combined with KR’s Bay Area papers (526,418), they’d surround and dominate the 512,000-circulation Chronicle. It would give Singleton a presence in every Bay Area county except San Francisco. Would such a combination trigger antitrust concerns? In 1999, when the Hearst Corp. wanted to close its Examiner newspaper and buy the Chronicle, the Clinton Justice Department forced Hearst to sell the Ex to the Florence Fang family (who was tied politically with then mayor Willie Brown) and pay the Fangs a $66 million subsidy to keep the Ex running. But industry analyst John Morton told the Chronicle that the federal government isn’t very concerned about newspaper consolidation in suburbs. “In fact they might view it as a positive development because it would improve the competition with the Chronicle,” Morton said. Singleton’s MediaNews already has a track record of owning a block of suburban papers in a major metropolitan region. “(Justice) allowed MediaNews to acquire a string of (newspaper) properties around Los Angeles; it has most of them except the Orange County Register and the Los Angeles Times,” Morton said.

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