UPDATED: Lauren Rich Fine to Leave Merrill Lynch

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By: Jennifer Saba

Veteran newspaper analyst Lauren Rich Fine is retiring from Merrill Lynch where she has served as the senior U.S. publishing and advertising analyst. She is leaving to spend time with her family and pursue unrelated interests. Fine joined the firm in 1988.

Karl Choi, who has been a member of the U.S. Publishing and Advertising team since 1996, will succeed Fine as senior analyst.

Fine, 47, is a champion and one of the most trenchant observers of newspapers. Her departure from Merrill Lynch — she has covered the sector since 1994 — comes at a time when the industry is undergoing turbulent change that will reshape the landscape of newspapers.

“Intellectually I’m having a blast trying to help people figure out the direction and what the future is really going to look like,” she told E&P this afternoon.

But the shifts hitting newspapers companies coming hard and fast. (Remember when Lee’s acquisition of Pulitzer could serve as fodder for months?) areThe reality, said Fine, is that investors don’t see it as a growth industry. “In terms of trying to do my real job — making money for investors — that is a real challenge.”

Fine thinks the industry will never see the levels of profitability it has produced in the past and that’s a hard sell to those looking to increase their investments.

For all the headlines about newspapers these days — mostly negative ones — Fine is most surprised that newspaper companies have been so slow to bring in management from outside the industry.

She also is concerned that newspapers won’t be able to support investigative journalism something the she says sets newspapers apart from other media.

The decision to leave was difficult but didn’t come at any one particular moment: “I just woke up and knew it was the right decision,” Fine said. She notified Merrill Lynch executives about her choice in late February.

Fine, who works out of her home in Cleveland, plans to spend more time with her family. She has a daughter and a niece who are both juniors in high school and a son in seventh grade. “My kids really like me and wanted me home,” she said, adding the amount of travel required for her job grew taxing. “That was an easy decision to have three teenagers who actually like me and wanted me home.”

She plans to switch careers but hopefully stay in a field that is advertising and or media related.

“Really I love change,” she said. “I’m 47. I still have a shot at changing careers before I’m 50.”

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