More on the Local Paper Drama

I ran into some interesting commentary yesterday while rooting around trying to get the details of the most recent drama events at Roanoke’s daily newspaper. There seems to be a good bit of speculation at the paper–both positive and negative–with Lee Enterprises’ purchase (for $149 million) of The Times from Warren Buffett’s BH Media, which is not and never has been a newspaper company, apparently.

One former reporter who remains close to the drama summed it up thusly:

“BH was a made-up company. Basically the Omaha newspaper executives were put in charge of a whole company overnight [and] they were out of their depth. [They had] no vision. Sometimes a bad plan is better than no plan. Lee seems to have a plan. It may turn out to be a bad plan, but at least it’s a plan. Lee is big on trying to create a digital future while extending the life of print as long as possible.”

Reporter Amy Friedenberger, who is with the group trying to form a guild (professionals in a union), tweeted this: “A metaphor for this newsroom [is that] our interim publisher (I’ve never met him and I don’t know where he lives, but his name is John Jordan) wasn’t in his office to accept our letter informing him we’re forming a union. Empty office. That shows his level of interest in local journalism.”

The former reporter I chatted with predicts that “someday [the paper] will all be online. Every day consumer preference dictates that. Online readership was far higher than print. Add them together and they nearly equal [the paper’s] old print readership. But online produces little revenue. Can Lee change that? We’ll see. By all accounts, they’re cheap … but at least they’re cheap [managers] with a plan.

“Here’s what to keep an eye on: the day Lee bought BH, the dreaded Alden hedge fund bought a small interest in Lee. Alden is the devil. Will [it] own enough to make a difference? I hope not but it’s not a good sign. Alden’s stake in the Tribune company has ruined the Norfolk.” [It has led to the sale of downtown offices, buyouts and a move to Newport News.)

“I was feeling great about the change to Lee until the Alden news. About 5 percent. …  [Alden owns] about a third of the Tribune.

“The Lee execs … have all said the right things about the value of local news. [It] may all be rhetoric but I never heard BH say that or anything [else about the value of local news]. Also the interim publisher is a former reporter” in Raleigh.

Lee Enterprises bought these Virginia papers from BH Media: The Roanoke Times, The Daily Progress in Charlottesville, the Richmond Times-Dispatch, the Bristol Herald Courier, The News & Advance in Lynchburg, the Martinsville Bulletin, The Danville Register & Bee, The Free Lance-Star in Fredericksburg, the Culpeper Star-Exponent, and The News Virginian in Waynesboro.

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