Explaining Southern California's economy

Peter Liguori becomes new Tribune CEO, calls the company a startup

2010 Winter TCA Tour - Day 6

Frederick M. Brown/Getty Images

Meet the new CEO of Tribune Co., owner — and possible soon a seller — of the L.A. Times.

Tribune Co. emerged from bankruptcy last year owned by a bank, JP Morgan, and private equity investors from Los Angeles-based Oaktree Capital Management. Now it's going to be run by an executive whose most recent job was at the giant private equity firm the Carlyle Group. Peter Liguori landed there for a stint after serving as the Chief Operating Officer at Discovery Communications.

Last year, the bankers and private-equity guys who now control the company started to talking to yet more bankers about possibly selling Tribune Co.'s newspapers, which include the Los Angeles Times and Chicago Tribune, as well as local TV station KTLA.

In an interview with the L.A. Times published Thursday, Liguori said that he's isn't interested in selling, say...the L.A. Times for a "fire sale" price. And then he said some other things:

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Orange Country Register sale to Boston-area investor closes

OCR-Front

The Orange Country Register's parent company, Freedom Communications, has been officially acquired by 2100 Trust LLC, headed by Massachusetts businessman Aaron Kushner.

The last pieces of Freedom Communications, including the Orange Country Register, have been sold to 2100 Trust LLC, an investment group led by Aaron Kushner, a Boston-area business man who initiated the purchase last month.

I took a stab at figuring out how big a deal this was, but no confirmation of my back-of-the-envelope math is forthcoming, as the deal size wasn't disclosed by Freedom or Kusher's group. The OCR's Mary Ann Mibourn did confirm an aspect of the purchase:

As part of the deal, Freedom Communications will make an additional one-time contribution to the company's retirement plan. The amount of the contribution was not disclosed.

This contribution was reportedly a dealbreaker for U-T San Diego owners Doug Manchester's ambitions to own two papers in Southern California. It could be a significant amount of money, beyond what 2100 Trust paid for the remnants of Freedom. As I wrote last month:

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Judge in Tribune bankruptcy could issue opinion today

Kevork Djansezian/AP

The Los Angeles Times building. Parent company Tribune Co. could begin the process of emerging from bankruptcy this week.

UPDATE: Judge Kevin Carey has issued his opinion. Oaktree, Angelo Gordon & Co., and JPMorgan Chase will now be able move toward assuming full ownership of Tribune's assets, under an accepted plan of reorganization. But Aurelius will fight on. This is from the Chicago Tribune:

Even if Tribune Co. emerges from bankruptcy in short order, the legacy of the Zell deal is likely to live on in the courts for years to come. Under the plan Carey approved, a group of junior creditors led by New York hedge fund Aurelius Capital Management will receive payments of $431 million to settle legal claims related to the buyout, including charges that the deal left the company insolvent from the start.

I reached out to Aurelius' Mark Brodsky for comment, but I haven't heard anything yet.

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The lengthy bankruptcy of the Tribune Co. — it filed in December of 2008 — could be drawing to a close. There have been reports all this week that Judge Kevin Carey will okay a restructuring plan that will end a drawn-out battle between the senior and junior creditors of the company that owns the Los Angeles Times.

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It's game over for the New York Times

New York Times' Quarterly Profits Falls 58 Percent

Ramin Talaie/Getty Images

The New York Times logo is seen on the headquarters in New York City. How much longer does the newspaper of record have left?

And for pretty much all the other newspapers, as well. I'm not sure if I totally buy that argument-from-armageddon — local papers may be able to make a go of it, while big national dailies could be in trouble. But you can get very worried about the Grey Lady's future if you run through Eric Jackson's brief yet decimating PowerPoint at Forbes

Here's the presentation. It's worth flipping through the full deck.

The real issue continues to be one of structural decline and a profound disruption of the business model of newspapers. The idea that the brand — the New York Times, for example — can simply migrate to the web and keep on keepin' on is now being aggressively questioned. Yes, we could have a "New York Times" online that does what the print product did for O! those many years. But the revenue won't support the business of the New York Times Company. 

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A new round of layoffs hits the L.A. Times

Kevork Djansezian/AP

The Los Angeles Times building. It's emptier than it was last week.

The first quarter of 2012 is almost over, and you know what that means: more layoffs at the Los Angeles Times. According to LAObserved, "as many as 20 people may be out" — but the business section is hiring a reporter to cover the food-and-agriculture beat. 

Layoffs have become a fact of life at the LAT, whose parent, Tribune Co., is still in bankruptcy. What appears to be going on now is that the paper is chopping back on its features and special sections, concentrating instead on news, business, sports, and entertainment — the core coverage areas. Three stand-alone weekly section, for example, were recently rolled into one Saturday section.

This happened at the same time the LAT announced the introduction of a paywall

Economic pressure on the newspaper business has caused a reversal — a slow reversal — of a trend that defined the growth of big metro dailies like the LATimes and the New York Times. The creation of additional sections covering topics like food, health, science meant that newspapers needed additional platforms for ads. This transformed broadsheets into hefty print products. The Wall Street Journal has defied this reversal, adding lifestyle sections since 2010. But that's a case of a paper that primarily covered the financial markets going for a more general interest/metro New York mix.

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