to Journal Register Co. was reportedly done against
the wishes of the family that sold him the newspaper sp.
A MONTH AGO, employees at Eagle Publishing Co.'s five newspapers wondered what life would be like under the chain's new management, MediaNews Group Inc.
Would the newspapers be slashed with new owner W. Dean Singleton's cost-cutting knife, which he has wielded so sharply over the past decade? If so, how far and deep would the cuts go?
At the Middletown (Conn.) Press, part of the Eagle group, there wasn't much time for speculation.
Even before completing the $39.8 million purchase of Eagle Publishing, Singleton surprised observers by announcing an agreement to unload the Press to Trenton, N.J.-based Journal Register Co., reportedly for $10 million. Both transactions closed on Sept. 1.
Singleton's decision to sell the Press raised eyebrows since the chain's seller, the Miller family, sold the papers as a package and, reportedly, did not want any of them to go to Journal Register.
Singleton denied that he had planned all along to sell the Press. Journal Register made an unsolicited offer for the newspaper after the agreement to purchase Eagle Publishing was announced, he said.
"We had to take the whole package," Singleton said. "Although the Press was the weakest property in the group, we planned to keep it for a while and see how it looked, and then make a decision about it later. But it makes a lot more sense for Journal Register."
No one from the Miller family is talking. But people close to the situation said the family is upset by Singleton's decision to sell the Press to Journal Register. In fact, while Journal Register reviewed a prospectus of Eagle, sources close to the Millers said they never would have sold the chain to the company.
Last week, Michael Miller confirmed that during the negotiations, the family had no idea Singleton would sell the Press. But he declined to comment further, saying that the sale agreement included a "do-not-disparage clause."
Singleton said he had "heard rumors" that the Millers weren't particularly keen on Journal Register owning any Eagle newspapers, but "nobody from either side ever told me that."
When he told the Millers the Press would be sold to Journal Register, Singleton said, "their reaction was, 'well, we're sorry that's going to happen, but we certainly understand your decision.' "
Jean Clifton, executive vice president and CFO for Journal Register, would not say whether the company looked at a prospectus for Eagle. But she stated that it was "absolutely not true that they [the Millers] wouldn't have sold to us."
The Miller family's reluctance to sell to Journal Register reportedly stemmed from its concern over an earlier experience in Torrington, Conn.
In 1993, the Millers sold the Torrington Register Citizen to Journal Register. But as they watched from the sidelines in the months after the sale, family members grew increasingly dismayed with the management of the newspaper, sources said.
A few longtime employees left the Register Citizen, publicly denouncing Journal Register's strong-arm management style. The parent company laid down policies which sharply conflicted with the autonomous style of the longtime, previous owners, they said.
"The Millers were concerned with the citizenship role of their newspapers," said one observer who asked to remain anonymous.
"The general perception is that the Journal Register Co. is more concerned with the marketing role of their newspapers."
Clifton said she wasn't aware of any discontent in Torrington.
"The news hole is up, total pages are up and we've added color and a Sunday newspaper," she said.
Journal Register's acquisition of the Middletown News moves it another step closer toward forming a complete circle around Hartford, the capital and home to the state's largest newspaper, the Hartford Courant, which is owned by Times Mirror Co.
With the 13,755-circulation News, Journal Register currently owns five daily newspapers in Connecticut, including the New Haven Register, Bristol Press, New Britain Herald, and Torrington Register Citizen.
Also, the company owns a string of weekly newspapers in the state. Collectively, the weeklies have a circulation of 375,488.
To complete the ring around Hartford, Journal Register would have to purchase one other newspaper to the north of the city. Many industry observers believe the company has its eye on the Journal Inquirer, in Manchester.
Diane Pardee, spokeswoman for Journal Register Co., said the company would have "no comment" on whether it was interested in the 50,000-circulation newspaper.
The Journal Inquirer is the sole newspaper property of the Ellis family, which has owned it since 1968. President and publisher Elizabeth Ellis said Journal Register Co. has not made any offers to buy the newspaper and said the paper is not for sale.
By: Dorothy Giobbe Dean Singleton's abrupt sale of a Connecticut daily