“When I left you I was but the learner. Now I AM THE MASTER,” the evil Darth Vader said to Obi-Wan Kenobi in the first “Star Wars.”
Could Dean Singleton become the Darth Vader of Denver? With E.W. Scripps’ announcement that the Rocky Mountain News is for sale, it’s a possibility.
Singleton, who is president of the parent company of the Rocky’s rival Denver News, could potentially be a likely suitors for the Rocky. Alan Mutter even suggests that Singleton’s MediaNews Group could be the most likely buyer.
Singleton hasn’t said if he is interested in purchasing the Rocky. But he did say in the Post that he didn’t think Scripps would find a buyer.
Given the current economic climate, I also doubt there will be much interest in the Rocky, despite its long history of being the scrappy tabloid that reflected the attitude of the pioneers that built the city at the foot of the Rocky Mountains. But, as Sam Zell pointed out recently, investors can’t cash in on Pulitzer prizes.
And, given the Post’s dominance in the market, I doubt anyone outside the industry would be interested in buying a struggling newspaper in a competitive market at a time when those in the market are all struggling for survival.
So, at first blush, MediaNews would seem like the ideal buyer. Considering the two papers have a JOA that combines a number of functions in circulation and advertising, and the papers share space in the same downtown building, there would be little else to consolidate.
So why would MediaNews want two newspapers in the same market? To answer that, we need to look at Dallas in 1991. Dallas was a two-newspaper town, dominated by the Belo Corp.’s Dallas Morning News and an afternoon competitor, the Dallas Times Herald. The Times Herald, like the Rocky, had a reputation of being the scrappy underdog that continually nipped at the heels of the more conservative News. Its stable included columnists like Molly Ivins, Skip Bayless and Joe Bob Briggs. A young reporter named Jim Lehrer covered the Kennedy assassination for the paper. It had 3 Pulitzers on its trophy shelf, including one for the infamous photo of Jack Ruby killing Lee Harvey Oswald.
In the late 80’s, a young entrepreneur named William Dean Singleton bought the paper from Times Mirror for a song, and after a few years of extensive cutbacks in staff and resources, he sold the paper to Belo in 1991. The next day, Belo shut down the Times Herald, thereby eliminating the News’ major competition in Dallas.
Back to today. Singleton is now in the catbird seat to give the Denver Post sole possession of the market. MediaNews Group could easily develop a package to buy the Rocky and, with a single slash from his corporate lightsabre, Singleton could eliminate the Rocky, absorbing what assets it has left into the Post’s operation.
If this does play out, it’d a win-win situation for Singleton and MediaNews Group. But It’d also be a big loss for Denver and the newspaper industry, as the Rocky would be added to the list of great metropolitan newspapers that have bitten the dust over the past two decades.
I stress that this is only one of many scenarios. A buyer could come through for the Rocky … maybe a noble billionaire as Rocky columnist Mike Littwin hopes. But that scenario … especially in light of the N.Y. Time’s revelation that McClatchy is trying to find a buyer for the Miami Herald … is the least likely out there.
Or, Scripps may not find a deal to its liking and just close up shop on its own, which would still give Singleton a monopoly in Denver without him moving a finger.
But if Singleton does become a player in the Rocky’s sale, the irony would be significant.
Or, in the words of Lord Vader: “The circle is now complete.”
UPDATE DEC. 15, 9:10 p.m.: OK, with MediaNews now teetering on the edge of bankruptcy, I now doubt this scenario will play through.
But, I wouldn’t be surprised to see Scripps and MediaNews “merge” the two organizations, eliminating one nameplate or maybe making one online only. The question would only be: Who will be willing to absorb all that debt?