By: Lucia Moses
Martin Joins Long List Of Lookers
When Thomson Corp. announced it was getting out of the newspaper
business to focus on the Internet, the timing couldn’t have been better
for Ralph Martin.
Martin, a former Thomson Newspapers executive, has been on the lookout
for markets to start his own newspaper company since he quit as CEO of
Community Newspaper Holdings Inc. (CNHI) last November. He had just
returned home to Birmingham, Ala., from a meeting with investors in New
York when he learned that Thomson’s 49 U.S. and five Canadian dailies
became available. The next thing he knew, the investors were calling
him. Could this be the announcement that would jump-start his plan?
‘I’ll be buying newspapers again, and who knows? I might take a shot at
some of Thomson’s properties,’ he says.
Martin, 46, has been working on a plan to buy newspapers and surround
them with other types of media – a multimedia twist on the clustering
strategy Thomson adopted in the 1990s. He is working with two lawyer
partners and the Bear, Stearns & Co. investment bank.
‘I would like to have print, broadcast, and Internet [properties] in an
area,’ he says. ‘What you’re banking on is to position yourself on
future FCC [Federal Communications Commission] changes.’ Currently, the
FCC bans newspapers from owning broadcast stations in their markets.
Already in good shape with capital, Martin says it’s a matter of
finding the right market. He wants to find six in the 75,000- to
150,000-population range in different parts of the United States.
Martin helped found CNHI in December 1996 and grow the company from
zero to more than 200 small papers in 22 states, including 95 dailies.
CNHI and Martin parted ways last year because the company was not ready
to embrace his idea of buying other kinds of media.
Wall Street, on the other hand, has been keen on the idea, and
especially high on the newspaper component, Martin says. ‘They would
like to see that print anchor in there because it provides a safety
net,’ he says.
The Thomson properties are small- to midsize papers, concentrated in
groups mainly in the South and Midwest. They are expected to attract a
plethora of potential buyers, including Pulitzer Inc., Athens, Ga.-
based Community Newspapers Inc., and possibly CNHI. Martin has the
advantage of knowing Thomson’s people and culture, the result of 19
years with the company. He also kept in contact after he left in 1994.
While building CNHI, he bought some of Thomson’s castoffs. But he also
knows there are no guarantees that he’ll walk away with some of
Thomson’s papers this time. ‘Whoever can afford to pay the price will
get a shot,’ he says.
Lucia Moses (email@example.com) is associate editor for
Editor & Publisher magazine.
THOMSON REPORTS HEAVY INTEREST IN NEWSPAPERS (02/25/00)
WHO WILL BUY THOMSON PAPERS? (02/23/00)
THOMSON CORP. TO SELL NEWSPAPERS (02/15/00)
THOMSON INTERACTIVE TO BE SOLD WITH PAPERS (02/15/00)
(c) Copyright 2000, Editor & Publisher