MANAGEMENT MOVES TO BLOCK SALT LAKE TRIB SALE

By: Lucia Moses

MediaNews Expects Deal To Be Completed





A newspaper war has erupted in Salt Lake City, where The Salt
Lake Tribune’s management company is seeking to stop a
planned sale of Utah’s biggest daily to MediaNews Group Inc.



The management company, which claims it has an option to buy the
134,542-circulation morning paper, said it was in talks to buy
the paper from AT&T Broadband. On Thursday, MediaNews announced
that it would buy the paper from AT&T.



Tribune General Manager Randy Frisch accused MediaNews
President William Dean Singleton of working on behalf of the
Mormon Church-owned Deseret News, the Tribune’s
joint operating agreement (JOA) partner. The News, an
afternoon paper with a circulation of 65,912, has been at odds
with the Tribune over how the JOA agency is structured,
and wants to convert from the afternoon to the morning cycle to
compete head-to-head with the Tribune.



“The publisher of the Deseret News said if we don’t agree
to all of his demands, Dean Singleton would, and Dean Singleton
had in fact suggested all those demands,” Frisch said. The
management is seeking an injunction in federal court in Utah to
stop the sale, Frisch said.



MediaNews and the Deseret News said Frisch’s claims were
false. News Publisher Jim Wall (who worked for MediaNews
from 1991 to earlier this year) said the News told the
Tribune only that it had discussed its concerns about the
JOA with MediaNews and that MediaNews agreed in principle to work
on those issues. “I’m sorry they saw that as a threat,” he said.



Jody Lodovic, MediaNews’ chief financial officer, acknowledged
that his company told the Deseret News it was “willing to
discuss” the JOA. But he said MediaNews’ interest in the paper
goes back years. “Quite frankly, I think it’s an emotional thing
for them,” Lodovic said of the Tribune management. “Our
goal is to close by the end of the year, and I think we’ll be
successful.”



The Tribune receives 58% of the profits of the JOA, with
the rest going to the Deseret News. Struck in 1952, the
JOA expires in 2012.



The Deseret News had talked with AT&T in hopes of changing
the structure of the agency that handles business operations for
both papers, Wall said. Each paper holds two seats on the
agency’s board and the Tribune has the right to name its
president; the News contends that right presents a
conflict of interest.



AT&T gained control of the morning daily as an unintended result
of its merger with cable company Tele-Communications Inc. last
year. TCI obtained the Tribune in a 1997 merger; it had
been owned by descendants of mining magnate Thomas Kearns. AT&T
had been expected to sell the paper, a noncore asset.



The Tribune management company maintains it had an option
to buy the paper in 2002, or sooner if the owners chose to sell.



If the sale to MediaNews is completed, the Tribune would
enhance its presence in the Rocky Mountain West and become its
third-biggest daily after flagship The Denver Post and the
Los Angeles Daily News. MediaNews is the seventh-biggest
U.S. newspaper group, with 47 dailies and a combined daily
circulation of about 2 million.



Lodovic said Salt Lake City’s strong economy and possibility of
selling national advertising packages with The Denver Post
added to the Tribune’s appeal. “It’s always been a very
attractive asset,” he said. “These kind of marquee names don’t
come up very often.”



MediaNews is already involved in JOAs in York, Pa., and
Charleston, W.Va. A proposed JOA in Denver is pending federal
approval.







Lucia Moses (lmoses@editorandpublisher.com) is an associate editor covering business for
E&P.







Copyright 2000, Editor & Publisher.

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