By: Lucia Moses

Tribune’s Management To Fight JOA Changes

MediaNews Group Inc. has completed its $200-million purchase of
The Salt Lake Tribune, but, in this case, exactly what
ownership means is another question. Last week, Denver-based
MediaNews amended the joint operating agreement for the
Tribune and The Deseret News, which has been a
point of contention between the two papers, but the
Tribune’s management company plans to fight those changes
in court this week.

MediaNews CEO William Dean Singleton removed Tribune
Publisher Dominic Welch and General Manager Randy Frisch from the
board of the JOA’s business agency and replaced them with himself
and MediaNews Chief Financial Officer Jody Lodovic. Singleton
also replaced Welch as agency president with Joseph H. Zerbey,
who was CEO of the York (Pa.) Newspaper Co., which is 57.5%-owned
by MediaNews. Zerbey’s appointment was welcomed by the
News, which has long wanted an independent agency head not
associated with either paper.

The new JOA also resolves a conflict over the News’ long-
stated goal of converting from afternoon to morning delivery,
with the News to pay equipment costs associated with
converting. The News hopes to complete the conversion by
September even if it doesn’t have a new press by then, but
conceded that the process could take longer. Street sales could
begin earlier, said L. Glen Snarr, chairman and president of the
Deseret News Publishing Co. The News, circulation 65,912,
thinks it could increase circulation 10% within a year of
switching, Publisher Jim Wall said.

The management company, to which Welch and Frisch belong,
contends that the JOA changes violate what it claims are its
right to operate the paper and buy it in mid-2002. The skirmish
is the latest in the battle over the fate of the 134,542-
circulation Tribune. The managers, who had been in talks
to buy the paper from the AT&T Corp., have fought the MediaNews
deal from the get-go. Underscoring the struggle is a mutual
mistrust between the Tribune and News.

Singleton and the Tribune management said the legal
wrangling won’t interfere with the operation of Utah’s biggest
daily. “It’s a difficult situation, but I think both sides
understand the value of The Salt Lake Tribune,” Frisch
said. But the shaky peace will surely face many more tests, not
least of all when both sides discuss the Tribune’s 2001

Lucia Moses (
is an associate editor covering business for E&P.

Copyright 2001, Editor & Publisher.

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