A Southern California newspaper report speculates that Hearst Corp. is positioning itself to take over MediaNews when its chief executive, Dean Singleton, retires.

That would mean nearly all of the Bay Area’s daily newspapers would be acquired by Hearst, owner of the Chronicle. Singleton’s MediaNews has owned the Oakland Tribune, San Mateo County Times, Marin Independent Journal and five other dailies for several years. In August, MediaNews acquired the region’s former Knight Ridder papers including the San Jose Mercury News and Contra Costa Times.

The speculation appears in the last two paragraphs of a story in the Torrence Daily Breeze about that paper’s sale to Hearst for $25 million. Hearst’s plan is to have MediaNews operate the Breeze and, eventually, sell the paper to MediaNews.

MediaNews has given Hearst a 30 percent stake in its non-Bay Area assets, valued at $300 million. In return, Hearst bought the Monterey Herald and St. Paul (Minn.) Pioneer Press, and turned those papers over to MediaNews.

San Francisco businessman Clint Reilly is challenging the MediaNews-Hearst deal in court on antitrust grounds. A trial is set for April.

The Daily Breeze ended its story with these paragraphs:

    One knowledgeable industry source who asked to remain anonymous speculated that the arrangement between Hearst and MediaNews was part of an exit strategy for MediaNews CEO William Dean Singleton when he eventually chooses to retire.

    “This arrangement with Hearst suggests that Hearst is interested in ultimately being Mr. Singleton’s successor with the company,” the source said. “That is speculation. But you look at everything together here, that certainly is a part of it.”

The 55-year-old Singleton (DOB 8-1-51) hasn’t revealed his retirement plans publicly, but the Columbia Journalism Review said this in 2003:

    One morning in 1986, [Singleton] woke up with numbness in his legs, and was soon diagnosed with multiple sclerosis. He remains extraordinarily active, but he says that each year his legs get progressively weaker, and he has confided to friends that on certain mornings he has trouble getting out of bed.

And the New York Times wrote this about him in May, after the news broke that he would be acquiring the Mercury News and Contra Costa Times:

    Mr. Singleton received a diagnosis of multiple sclerosis in 1986. He travels constantly, but his walk has slowed and he says that sometimes his legs give out, leaving him to shuffle or just sit still. This has led some to suggest that his investments in the business stem from a desire for a positive legacy.

    “He’s paving his way to heaven,” said David M. Cole, editor of NewsInc., a newsletter about the industry. “He’s trying to salve the wounds of Dallas and Houston, and the cuts he made in newspapers that upon reflection maybe he shouldn’t have made.”

(Photo by George Frey for the New York Times.)

SF Press Club News

2 Comments

  1. The only problem with this scenario is that if the judge has problems with the limited amount of consolidation currently proposed, how is she going to react to a complete merger? And it’s not like Hearst and Singleton will have any success appealing the judge’s decision — they would have to go before the 9th Circuit, not friendly territory for corporations. And I doubt the new congress is going to change antitrust laws to make it easier for companies to consolidate.

  2. This article confirms a lot of the questions that we who work for MNG have had: Why would Singleton put so much effort into building a company when his future is limited by MS? Legacy building and possibly staying busy to keep his mind off his inevitable demise.

    It helps us with our career planning to have this input.

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