But, I doubt such lessons will be learned. There are now two forces at work in MediaNews, and neither of them is reflection. The first will accelerate change, which is inevitable. The second will shape the change, which is worrisome.
The first force results from the removal of Singleton as CEO. The new directors are no less interested in moneymaking than he and no more interested in quality journalism. Yet, they come without the baggage and ego that clouds strategic decision-making.
The second force results from the removal of the baggage and ego that at least served as a check on the most drastic consolidation plans. The new board is not going to try to preserve a newspaper company, as Singleton has. This could be a benefit to innovation, creating a potential for a sane and creative digital strategy (which is sorely lacking in MediaNews). But this also removes a check on pain.
Martin Langeveld, a former MediaNews executive now at Nieman Journalism Lab, has an excellent post about what to expect, and he makes a convincing argument that Singleton no longer much of a hand in in the company:
While Singleton may have ideas for strategic consolidations, without Lodovic he lacks the necessary financial engineering savvy, and without control of the board, he can’t make anything happen. The new title for Singleton looks and feels like a face-saving ambassadorial position.In other words, it is time to look beyond Lean Dean. He is not the future.
So, who is in charge and what do they want? Alden Global Capital is the group that now has board control of MediaNews, and the investment company has a deep financial interest in a number of other distressed newspaper companies, many of which might be ripe for a leveling consolidation. Again, from Langeveld:
Clearly, Alden is the outfit with the most skin in the game, having investments in MediaNews, Freedom, Philadelphia Media, Journal Register, Freedom, Tribune and Postmedia. (Incidentally, as a further extension of this network, JP Morgan Chase, which has been involved in the Tribune, Freedom and Journal Register reorganizations, is the largest stockholder at Gannett, with a 10.2 percent “passive” investment.)
With all these interrelationships among investors and “distressed” newspaper firms, it’s not hard to see why Dean Singleton might say that achieving some kind of “consolidation” will be a full-time job. Still, it seems unlikely that Singleton will get to pull the strings, when the money behind the interlocking investment structures is controlled by billionaire Randall Smith, Alden’s founder, who built his fortune through investments in junk bonds and distressed properties. Alden acquired most of its newspaper stakes through its Alden Global Distressed Opportunities Fund, which it launched in 2008 and which is now worth nearly $3 billion. Alden has offices in New York, Dallas, Dubai and Mumbai, along with a tax-haven presence on the Channel Island Jersey.The beginning of the consolidation process is likely to be here in Southern California, with some form of merger between MediaNews Group's Los Angeles Newspaper Group and the Orange County Register, owned by Freedom Communications. But Alden also has a stake in the Tribune Co, which owns the Los Angeles Times. This could lead to a distribution partnership that serves as a basis for mergers in other parts of the country.
For example, in New England, a combination of MediaNews, Journal Register and Tribune would have properties in Connecticut, Rhode Island and Massachusetts — totaling about 25 percent of circulation in those states, on a par with the current California partnership. On a countrywide basis, the companies in which Alden appears to have a stake and some degree of influence, as detailed above, have about 15 percent of all circulation and if fully merged, would be about 10 percent bigger than the current champion, Gannett.Hopefully, we'll see more reporting on Randall Smith, the billionaire owner of Alden, and get a sense of where he wants to go.