Singleton, Ridder on the Art of the Deal

By: Joe Strupp

William Dean Singleton, vice chairman and CEO of Media NewsGroup, was conspicuous by his (relative) silence much of the day, even as word emerged that his company had bought into the Detroit newspaper market in picking up the Detroit News, joining the JOA deal with Gannett’s new property, the Detroit Free Press.

Reached by E&P late Wednesday, he commented, “We?ve been partnering with Gannett elsewhere and we like what we see here. It?s a very big market, a lot going on.?

More On The Deal
* The Breakdown
* Tracking the Management Moves
* Analyst: Profit Concerns Drove Knight Ridder’s Detroit Pullout
* Reaction from Big-City KR Papers
* Surprise at Tallahassee Democrat
* Detroit Upheaval



Asked how the deal came down, he said he wouldn’t “discuss that,” but revealed “our discussions in Detroit go back quite some time.”

Why buy the smaller, afternoon paper in a shrinking market? ?You?re buying a strong newspaper, which is smaller, but it is part of a joint operating agreement,” he explained. “Being the smaller newspaper is not necessarily a disadvantage. You are showing profits.?

He would not comment on any changes in the JOA structure.

Although rumors had been flying that certain MediaNews properties might also be swapped or sold today, such as the Oakland Tribune (which Knight Ridder has eyed for awhile), he denied it, saying no other newspapers were considered as part of the deal. ?I think you have seen all there is to see? about the agreement, he added.

How does Knight Ridder chief Tony Ridder describe the genesis of the deal? He talked a little bit about it in remarks to staffers in the Free Press newsroom this afternoon when the deal was announced. Poynter Online Editor Bill Mitchell, a former reporter there, listened in from afar and took notes, capturing this Q and A:

Q: “Who initiated this deal?”

Ridder: “It was a long process? over a two to three year period. We tried all sorts of way to try to change it? Picked up momentum earlier this year. Contract wasn?t signed until today. We were negotiating last week and it looked like things were going to fall apart?.and then things got back on track again.”

Answering another queston about why KR was selling, he said, “The Free Press is the only newspaper we own that we don?t run the business. We feel more comfortable where we have full control over our own destiny. We had control over the newsroom and the editorial page but not the business side?” He pointed out that at the new papers it got from Gannett in the deal his company will have total control.

Polk Laffoon, the Knight Ridder spokesman, told The New York Times: “There were things Gannett wanted to do and things Knight Ridder wanted to do. We decided if we could develop an exit strategy that would leave us whole, it would be a positive thing for both parties….At the end of the day, we did want to exit Detroit, but we wanted to do it in a way that mitigated the circulation loss and come away with an equivalent cash flow, so we were able to negotiate the swap.”

The cash flow at the company’s new, smaller papers in Idaho and Washington papers “is better,” he said.

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