New Orleans Saints owner Tom Benson says he and other investors want to buy The Times-Picayune, WWLTV.com reports. He writes in a letter to Steven Newhouse, head of Advance.net:
I would welcome the opportunity to speak to you about my interest in purchasing the Times-Picayune, with others. If this is something that is an option, we can initiate this at your earliest convenience.
As I have stated in my letter of May 27 and subsequently in our conversation in your office, the Times Picayune boasts unmatched readership and loyalty. The city of New Orleans is a city of immense culture, economic growth and host to millions of people annually; it is a nationally and internationally recognized city. It is a city deserving of a seven day a week newspaper.
A handwritten note at the bottom of the letter reads, “In 1985, the Saints were leaving, I would hate for this to happen with our paper.”
Times-Picayune reporter Kimberly Quillen writes that Benson shouldn’t hold his breath:
Steve Newhouse reiterated Thursday that the company will not entertain an offer to sell the newspaper to Benson.
And in a separate letter Thursday, U.S. Sen. David Vitter of Louisiana urges Advance to sell the paper. “From a pure business perspective, you’re about to get smoked,” Vitter writes.
Dear Steven Newhouse:
In light of your decision to only print the Times-Picayune three times per week, and the multiple credible buyer groups that I know want to buy the paper and continue it as a daily, I urge you to enter into serious negotiations with them. Then I urge you to sell.
Maybe you truly believe that your new model for the Times-Picayune will serve the region well. I do not. More importantly, no citizen of the region whom I’ve spoken to about this does. And I literally mean no one. This includes everyone at the Times-Picayune itself that I’ve spoken to.
First, no digital platform, no matter how good, can completely replace a printed daily in substance, use, and significance to the community. This is particularly true in large, important segments of the population.
Second, you have a terribly inadequate digital platform which has actually gotten worse since your announcement. The new format has been universally panned (and I agree). And this is reflected in the numbers. As a single member of our Congressional delegation, I actually have far more Facebook followers than your whole enterprise.
Third, from a pure business perspective, you’re about to get smoked. The Advocate and others are moving in to fill the void you are creating. And TP subscribers, including me, will be eager to cheer them on by trading our subscriptions.
For all of these reasons, do the right thing. Sell.
United States Senate
Advance has already rebuffed a previous letter from a group of New Orleans big shots who asked to line up a buyer for the paper if the company didn’t reconsider its plan to stop daily printing. “Advance Publications has no intention of selling The Times-Picayune,” Donald Newhouse wrote in response.
After a local musician wrote an open letter to newspaper white knight Warren Buffett imploring him to buy the paper, he replied that the Newhouse family does “not have a history of selling anything.”
In April, when a group of local swells purchased Philadelphia’s newspapers, The New York Times’ David Carr argued that local rich guys may represent the last, best hope of metropolitan daily newspapers.
Does all this smart money see something the rest of us have failed to? Some hidden, unlocked riches in these distressed assets? No. In each instance, the buyer was motivated, at least in part, by the fact that the newspapers faced an existential threat: but for the new owners and their deep pockets, they might go away.
Sort of related: Here is a Downfall-meme video from Mobile, Ala., alternative paper Lagniappe knocking NOLA Media Group President Ricky Mathews for his tenure as publisher of the Press-Register. That paper, as well as Advance’s other Alabama papers, are going through the same changes as the Times-Pic. The video has some spicy language (in subtitle form). Here’s a screenshot to give you a taste: