By: Jennifer Saba
Today Rich Boehne steps into the role of president and CEO of the newly formed E.W. Scripps Co., a company that has been relatively unscathed — at least compared to its peers — on the Street.
The ?new? Scripps will be operating as a newspaper and broadcast TV company with a focus on local media sans its lucrative cable and Interactive division, which is now Scripps Networks Interactive (NYSE: SNI). The feel-good vibe from investors will probably spin-out with it, as the new Scripps (NYSE: SSP) will likely get a bitter taste of how the investors have been treating newspaper companies without fast growing media properties.
Just take a June 2 note from Goldman Sachs? lead analyst Peter Appert, who pegged the new Scripps to start trading at roughly $8/share, with a market capitalization of about $1.4 billion. (On June 30, the old SSP closed at $41.90). It got the boot from the S&P500; SNI took its place.
Boehne is not a stranger to road shows and investor calls. He began his media career as a part time reporter for The Cincinnati Enquirer before graduating from college, eventually landing at The Cincinnati Post where he covered Wall Street, the national economy, and other business subjects. He was plucked by Scripps headquarters to help prepare the company for its initial public offering in 1988. It went public that summer at $16.
For all the chaos in the industry ? especially over the past month — Boehne, who was previously E.W. Scripps? executive vice president and chief operating officer, is relatively upbeat about running the company?s daily newspapers in 15 markets and 10 TV stations. ?There isn?t anything that is happening now that is surprising us at all,? he said. ?Local is an opportunity.?
About two and half years ago, executives with Scripps began to have serious discussions with its board about splitting the company in two, each focusing on national and local media. ?We pitched the idea, ?Boehne said, ?Believing at the time that local was going through very dramatic convulsions. Either by luck or vision, it?s correct.?
Boehne said that E.W. Scripps virtually has no debt. This enables the company to invest in the markets where they already have newspapers and TV stations, including the two states beaten down the most by the real estate collapse, Florida and California.
?We love Florida,? he said when asked about Scripps properties in the Sunshine state. He added that despite its economic hardships at the moment, long term, it has desirable demographics and growth patterns. He says the economy will eventually bounce back and when it does Scripps will be in a good position.
Meanwhile, the company?s Ventura County Star in California announced on Monday it would undergo changes as a result of belt tightening. ?We?re not trying to fool anybody with phony catchphrases like ?new and improved? or ?to better serve you,?? Editor Joe Howry wrote in the paper on June 29. ?We?re eliminating some things from the paper; it?s as simple as that. ? We weren?t ordered by our corporate bosses, and we did so keeping in mind Publisher George Cogswell?s directive that we remain a vibrant, local newspaper.?
Boehne said that the housing crisis caught the industry by surprise but that ?you have to focus on what you control. Scripps, like just about every newspaper publisher in the country, is taking a look at outsourcing and printing consolidation. ?You can?t tweak your way through this period,? he said.
?We believe the focus should be less on the industry and more on the local market,? Boehne said. ?A period of anxiety means there is an opportunity somewhere. If you are in good markets there is going to be a good opportunity as local media restructures. We like where we are a lot.?