Various leaders of the Guild say their proposal to team with supermarket magnate Ron Burkle to buy the Mercury News is gaining steam now that it is more likely that their newspaper could fall into the hands of Billy Dean Singleton (pictured), according to a story by Michael Stoll of gradethenews.org.

While a Singleton acquisition of Knight Ridder’s Bay Area publications would allow his MediaNews company to dominate the region, UC Berkeley law professor Stephen Barnett says such a merger won’t trigger antitrust concerns. “That’s what’s so unfortunate about the present situation,” Barnett is quoted as saying. “There’s virtually no competitive cities left. It takes away different points of view and sources of information. The monopoly daily paper becomes virtually the only source of news on local issues.” (It appears antitrust is a bigger concern in Minnesota, where McClatchy owns the Minneapolis Star Tribune. McClatchy said in a news release that it decided spin off Knight Ridder’s St. Paul Pioneer Press because of “anticipated antitrust concerns,” according to KARE-TV and the Pioneer Press.)

Meanwhile, the Contra Costa Times says that if it were purchased by Singleton’s MediaNews, it would “unleash drastic changes for readers and employees of the publications. For example, the Knight Ridder-owned Valley Times has essentially the same circulation area as the Tri-Valley Herald, a MediaNews-owned paper …,” the Contra Costa Times story said. “That means that in order to be profitable, those papers could be combined, or one could close, [newspaper consultant Sammy] Papert said. When asked if it would be likely that MediaNews would keep open both of the Pleasanton-based papers, Papert said, ‘I hate to say it, but no.'”

[Dan Gillmor: Are we talking about a United Airlines-style employee ownership?] [Lou Alexander: Is Burkle the kind of guy the newspaper unions want to do business with?] [MSNBC: Michael Jackson turns to longtime friend Burkle for advice]

SF Press Club News

2 Comments

  1. One important thing to remember. Singleton is highly leveraged and always does these deals with a number of limited partners. Potential limited partners will back away from his attempt to buy the KR papers if they think their names will be dragged through the mud with Singleton’s. And when it comes to Singleton, there’s a lot of mud.

  2. Journalists should organize a campaign to stop Singleton from buying these papers by explaining to the public how media consolidation is bad for readers, advertisers and democracy in general.

    I wish I could lead this effort, but I might end up working for this guy. Here’s what others might do:

    — Start a letter/email writing campaign to local members of Congress, pointing out the antitrust implications. McClatchy is so concerned about antitrust issues that is selling the St. Paul Dispatch rather than shutting it down and seeking a monopoly in Minneapolis. Even though our members of congresss are Democrats, and therefore don’t have much pull with the Bush administration, they can still make a lot of noise by holding hearings, introducing legislation, calling news conferences, etc.

    — Organize Town Hall meetings in several communities that would lose newspaper competition.

    — Form a task force of the Bay Area’s best-known journalists who would “investigate” Singleton and the effects of media consolidation. That would be worth a couple of stories in the Chronicle.

    — Book journalists who oppose media consolidation on local radio talk shows. Make sure this becomes an issue of both the right wing and left wing. Both wings lose when there are fewer voices.

    — Get op-eds flowing to all of the local papers.

    — Investigate the hell out of Singleton. He’s never been afraid to mix news and advertising. Talk about how leveraged he is. Gannett didn’t even want to do business with him in the Knight Ridder deal — why was that? For your left-wing audiences, give them stories about Singleton’s conservative causes and beliefs.

    – Contact advertisers. Ad rates will only go up if there’s less competition. Besides, Singleton’s ANG subsidiary has been sued by advertisers for misleading them on circulation figures, so they don’t love this guy.

    — Meet with the business writers for area newspapers and business pubs and ask them to write about the other companies like the New York Times, Wall Street Journal or Freedom Communications (Orange County Register owner) that might also be interested in these properties.

    — Get the unions at the Merc to promise that they’ll be nice to the next owner if it’s not Singleton.

    If you don’t stop Singleton, it will only be a matter of time before Hearst gives up in San Francisco and sells him the Chronicle. And if nobody tries to stop him from buying the Knight Ridder Bay Area papers, he won’t have any problem grabbing the Chronicle.

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