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Who Will Buy The Worcester Telegram?

Wednesday, February 27, 2013

 

The New York Times Co.'s announced last week that its New England Media Group is up for sale, and while there has been plenty of speculation and interest from potential buyers of the Boston Globe, there has been next to none with regard to the Worcester Telegram & Gazette.

And even though the Times Co. has said it would like to sell the whole of New England Media Group, which includes the Globe and Telegram and their associated web properties, together, the company has not ruled out selling off the papers individually if a buyer for both is not forthcoming.

"There's a tremendous amount of anxiety, obviously, as to what's going to happen," said John Hill, president of the Providence Newspaper Guild, which represents around 70 positions at the Worcester Telegram, as well as members at the Woonsocket Call, Pawtucket Times, Providence Journal and Brockton Enterprise.

Hill said that the two papers could be sold individually or together as a group, or someone could buy both and sell the Telegram off. Alternatively, there could be no sale at all, like in 2009 when the Times Co. put the papers up for sale but found no takers. However, Hill said the talk surrounding the sale this time around sounds a lot more serious than it did in the past.

"Until we know what's going to happen and how this is going to unfold, we're not really sure how to react," he said.

The Times Co. acquired the Globe in 1993 for $1.1 billion and bought the Telegram in 2000 for $296 million. According to a report in the Wall Street Journal, the Times Co. received a bid in January of this year of over $100 million for the Globe from an investment group led by the paper's former president, Rick Daniels, who subsequently served as president of Gatehouse Media New England before resigning at the end of last year.

Separate or together?

Rick Edmonds, media business analyst for The Poynter Institute, said he could see a sale going either way, keeping the two papers together or splitting them off into separate purchases.

"The newspapers share a number of functions and last I looked a few years ago even some common sections. So that is a plus for keeping them together," he said. "But certain owners might see the T&G as a drain and distraction."

On the other hand, Dan Kennedy, professor at Northeastern University's School of Journalism and media blogger at Media Nation, said a split would be in the best interest of both the Globe and the Telegram.

"I never thought the Globe and the T&G made for a natural pairing, and I think it would be good for everyone — especially the communities served by those papers — if both were in the hands of separate local owners."

Local vs. regional ownership

Kennedy said questions of the Telegram's future relationship with the Globe will likely hinge on whether a potential buyer or investment group in the Worcester area who is motivated and well-financed enough to take the paper on as an independent entity.

"Given the geography, I'm not sure whether a potential buyer like Berkshire Hathaway would see it as in a dominant position in its community or more like a suburban daily (in which the company has shown less interest)," Edmonds said, adding that the Telegram might be a fit for Gatehouse or Community Newspaper Holdings, Inc., both of which have smaller suburban papers in the region.

Both Edmonds and Kennedy said they think the Times Co. is ready to take the Worcester paper off its books one way or another.

"I can't imagine selling the Globe but keeping the T&G," Kennedy said. "From the Times Co.'s point of view, I doubt anyone cares whether the Globe and the T&G remain together or are split."

With so many questions still unanswered, including whether a sale of one or both papers will go through, guild members are keeping a close eye on any developments.

"It's a very complicated relationship with the two papers," Hill said.

"We're very curious to see how this unfolds."

 

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