The potential impact of a mega-Gannett-Tribune deal

Good morning.

  1. What's up for newsrooms, readers?
    A hostile $815 million bid for Tribune Publishing by Gannett, owner of USA TODAY and 100 other properties, inspired anxiety in Tribune newsrooms for reasons that Gannett shouldn't deny. Staffers I spoke with at the Los Angeles Times, Chicago Tribune and The Baltimore Sun — three of Tribune's best-known dailies — are nervous, partly because of Gannett's lingering image of being in a different league qualitatively, even with the success of USA TODAY (of which I am a fan). After nearly a decade of internal tumult, including bankruptcy, they're well-practiced at being shell-shocked. This time, the news reinforced their falling fortunes. Not long ago you would have needed far more money just to buy either the Tribune or Times, forget all 11 papers.

    Whether you're "the best orthopedic surgeon in town" or a "sleazeball lawyer," reputations are hard to lose. Thus, here was industry analyst Ken Doctor's Cliff's Notes on Gannett in a phone chat: "Middle-brow, small towns, tight rein on management, publishers ascendant and editors not as strong, excellent financial engineers, best balance sheet in the business, still searching for its community voice." And there are few Pulitzer Prizes around their newsrooms.

    As for Michael Ferro, the tech mini-mogul who three months ago become king of the hill at Tribune Publishing, he was irate over the offer and didn't agree to a formal meeting with his suitor, Doctor said. But it's hard to argue that the existing Gannett offer is pretty good for shareholders, even if Ferro scrambles to avoid a forced and profitable exit. (Poynter) Whether somebody else enters the fray and at least forces Gannett to up the ante is unclear. At the same time, Ferro and its board apparently sat on the deal, effectively undermining its own shareholders. (The New York Times)

    Journalistically, an intriguing prospect is the impact of Joanne Lipman, a top-flight former Wall Street Journal reporter-editor and Conde Nast magazine editor, who recently joined Gannett as chief content officer. She's mulling strategies to best maximize their ample resources (even without Tribune, it's got 1,800 journalists) and having more impact. Her own experience is largely national, so there may be a learning curve in understanding the deep ties some local papers can have to their communities, the perils of a one-size-fits-all editorial approach and bloodlessly sizing up staffs in a far-flung new universe.

    But she's big-time and sophisticated and has a fascinating challenge: In a declining industry, how do you get people to pay for quality online content while revenues are dwindling and the corporate impulse is to prop up margins? "At this point, Gannett probably isn’t any worse (qualitatively) than many of its peers," says industry analyst Alan Mutter, pointing to industrywide cuts. "But that’s because the bar has been lowered." So maybe that offers Lipman a further chance to change one distinct corporate image for the better."

  2. Annals of consolidation (cont.)
    The Justice Department approved Charter Communications' $78 billion purchase of Time Warner Cable, as well as its $10.4-billion takeover of Bright House Networks. "The company agreed not to impose data caps or charge broadband internet customers based on data usage, practices that have riled customers." (The Wall Street Journal) The FCC will apparently now go ahead and give final approval. Don't expect your cable bills to head south. (Los Angeles Times)
  3. Trump flips the bird
    The May 1 issue of Fortune will raise questions about Donald Trump's wealth and uses a photo that appears to show Trump "flipping the bird while talking on the phone." "The photo, purchased from Contour by Getty Images, was taken in 2008 by photographer Gillian Laub." (New York Post)
  4. A very retro Kobe deal
    Boy, this is a sadly old-school gambit when it comes to newspaper marketing. The Los Angeles Times offered readers a chance to celebrate the retirement of Kobe Bryant with "the ACTUAL plate used to print" an April 17 special edition section on Bryant. "It still contains the ink from the presses! This is the only plate available." Whoopee. It's apparently now gone for $999.95. (Los Angeles Times Store) As an L.A friend notes, they should have given Bryant the plate at a press conference and reaped a lot more than $1,000 bucks in goodwill.
  5. Reporters working for sports leagues' networks
    For a long time, the likes of the NFL, NBA, MLB and individual teams have been hiring journalists to supposedly honestly cover them. Of course, that's a bit of a crock, as underscored by veteran NFL Network reporter Albert Breer who's departing and concedes “I’ve been there five-and-a-half years and it’s a very limiting place in a lot of different ways...The rules were one way when I got there, and they’re very, very different now. And there are a lot of stories that I haven’t been able to do that I will be able to do now." (Pro Football Talk)
  6. The collapse of the great American newsstand
    Magazine sales have plummeted at newsstands and revenues are way down. People seem to increasingly be living without their beloved magazines. There are other reasons, such as changes in retail chains, the publication of more magazines, wholesalers' profitability declining, the overnight disappearance of some wholesalers and distributors and a recession-inspired "loss of the discretionary income that supports the impulse buy that drives sales of magazines at the newsstand." (Mr. Magazine)
  7. Erin Andrews settles
    "Usually you hear about lawsuits being settled before a case goes to trial, but on Monday, Fox Sports reporter Erin Andrews reached an agreement with West End Hotel Partners and Windsor Capital Group, the owner and operator of the Nashville Marriott where a stalker recorded video of Andrews changing in her hotel room, The Tennessean newspaper reported. A jury had already awarded Andrews $55 million." (Law Newz)
  8. Hannity and Trump
    Trump publicist Sean Hannity of Fox News did yet another puffball interview of the GOP frontrunner last night. Trump essentially confirmed that former Hoosier basketball coach Bobby Knight, an Indiana icon, will endorse him before its big primary Tuesday. "Tough, smart incredible guy," said Trump. Lest one be forced to go cold turkey with no Trump after Donald was done, one soon got, once again, son Eric Trump for a similarly cozy session with Hannity. If Trump winds up in the White House and hires Hannity as a domestic policy adviser, he'll hopefully give him back pay.
  9. And what a surprise!
    It falls somewhat short of harmony between India and Pakistan, but Megyn Kelly will now get her interview with Trump, who once said her show is "never worth watching." (Gawker) This will leave approximately 35 North American journalists, perhaps including several at KTVF-TV in Fairbanks, Alaska and The Sheboygan Press in Wisconsin (also owned by Gannett) who have not had exclusives with Trump. But their time may come.
  10. Job moves, edited by Benjamin Mullin
    Deborah Gump is now director of the journalism program at the University of Delaware. Previously, she was a visiting professor at the University of South Carolina. (Email) | Stephanie Pedersen is now executive editor of the Sun News. Previously, she was a senior editor at the Ledger Enquirer. (@stephdpedersen) | Job of the day: WJLA is looking for an investigative producer. Get your resumes in! (Journalism Jobs) | Send Ben your job moves: bmullin@poynter.org.

Corrections? Tips? Please email me: jwarren@poynter.org. Would you like to get this roundup emailed to you every morning? Sign up here.

Editor's note: Poynter receives funding through a training partnership with Gannett. The company has no influence over our news content.

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    James Warren

    New York City native, graduate of Collegiate School, Amherst College and Roosevelt University. Married to Cornelia Grumman, dad of Blair and Eliot. National columnist, U.S. News & World Report. Former managing editor and Washington Bureau Chief, Chicago Tribune.

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