Sale of L.A. Times
may to be next major
shift in media ownership
Billionaire Warren Buffet would be the best new proprietor of the L.A. Times if he were interested. Click image to enlarge.
THE SURPRISE SALE of the venerable Washington Post by the legendary Graham family this week has elements of both gloom and hope for those of us who value daily newspapers – and those who work for them.
But it certainly is a significant chapter in the evolution of daily newspaper ownership away from the control of family dynasties like the Grahams, an evolution that actually began 13 years ago when the Chandler family sold the Los Angeles Times to Tribune Co. for $8 billion.
The question on every Angeleno’s mind today is: Is the L.A. Times next?
The answer is: possibly, if Tribune Co. reopens the bidding.
THERE HAS BEEN A FLURRY of newspaper sales around the country recently. Last week New York Times Co. sold the Boston Globe to the owner of the Red Socks for a paltry $70 million; it bought the New England daily for more than $1 billion over a decade ago.
The web site of the Los Angeles Times, which is still giving away most online content for nothing. Click image to enlarge.
Why was Jeff Bezos able to pick up The Washington Post for a mere $250 million (pocket change to the Amazon billionaire, who’s personal fortune is estimated in the $25 billion range)?
Because the Post has made the same mistake as the Los Angeles Times (and many other large dailies): it has failed to monetize its online content successfully.
For years, newspapers have been giving valuable content away for nothing. When readers get something for nothing, that is exactly what they think it is worth: nothing!
The New York Times lead the way 18 months ago when it erected a paywall and began charging for most of its online content.
Public Editor Margaret Sullivan reported in January that the NYT then had 600,000 paid online subscriptions, and that, in 2012, for the first time, subscription revenue outpaced advertising revenue at New York Times Co.
The NYT has gradually been teaching its readers that content has value and it should be paid for. It is on track to have more digital than print subscribers within a year or two.
(That, by the way, was why I bought stock in the company in January; my stock is up 35 percent since I purchased it.)
The Los Angeles Times, alas, does not seem to have learned the lesson. It is still giving away most of its online content for nothing.
Its owner, the restructured Tribune Co., which went through a wrenching bankruptcy caused by that idiot Sam Zell, had put the L.A. Times and its other newspaper properties up for sale, but the bidding was put on hold last month.
Everyone in Los Angeles is holding their breath to see who the new owner will be.
The Eli Broad Foundation web site. Broad is rumored to be interested in acquiring the L.A. Times and would be far better than right-wing billionaires. Click image to enlarge.
EARLIER THIS YEAR it was widely reported that the infamous Koch brothers – the far-right-wing activists who have limitless resources and the willingness to spend then to further their political goals – are interested in acquiring one of the most important institutions on the West Coast.
Also rumored to be interested was Rupert Murdoch, and he needs no introduction. What he has done to The Wall Street Journal and the media landscape in both the U.S. and the U.K. is abominable.
Will a white knight (akin to Jeff Bezos, who might just be able to turn a profit at the Washington Post by monetizing its online content) step forward to save the L.A. Times?
What about billionaire Warren Buffet?
We on this blog suggested in May that he was the most suitable potential proprietor in “Save the Los Angeles Times from ultra conservative take over.”
We still think he would be the most suitable new owner. He has great faith in newsprint, having invested over $300 million in about 30 dailies during the past two years.
He knows the newspaper business and the craft of journalism, and how to make money.
But he is not the only one. Eli Broad, who made billions building homes in Southern California and elsewhere is another candidate. He is civic minded in the same way the Chandlers were, and keeping the L.A. Times under local ownership would be a plus indeed.
Broad has a deep and abiding commitment to the community and has spread his wealth generously around, most particularly supporting the arts and culture.
Tribune is staying mum. Its last report indicated no potential suitors had even done a cursory examination of its books – a necessary prerequisite for any acquisition.
The suspense is certainly good enough for a daytime soap. But the issue is of enormous importance to those of us who care about the Times and our community.
Yes, the Los Angeles Times may be next.
Let’s hope the news is good.
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