By Alan Prendergast
By Michael Roberts
By Michael Roberts
By Amber Taufen
By Patricia Calhoun
By William Breathes
By Michael Roberts
By Melanie Asmar
Truer words were never spoken. Singleton bought the Press for the bargain-basement price of $100,000, but in the next several months he ran through much more than that -- "$500,000 or $600,000 worth of loans," he says -- without making an appreciable dent in the Star Telegram's armor. After the Press closed in November 1975, leaving behind angry reporters who claimed that they hadn't been paid for two weeks, Singleton sold all his weeklies to help settle the balance. By his reckoning, he got within $300,000 of doing so. "There were no personal guarantees on that money, but I grew up in the ranch world, where if you owed somebody money, you paid them; it didn't matter if you needed to or not. So I eventually paid it all off. It took me ten years, but I did it."
That may not tell the whole story. Bill McAda, who'd edited the Press for Singleton and served as vice president of what was then called Singleton Enterprises, told Westword in 1987 that the IRS was owed $122,000 in employee-withholding taxes after the Press's demise, of which DeArmond paid a relatively minor portion. As for Eakin, he suggests that Singleton still owes him $15,000 following the sale of the papers with which they were associated.
Singleton counters that the debt in question was actually assumed by Eakin and a partner as part of their contractual agreement. "I think Ed just didn't understand the transaction, which he was minimally involved in," Singleton says. He adds, by way of demonstrating that he bears no ill will toward Eakin, that years later, while at the Houston Post, he threw a lavish party for one of Eakin's authors.
Eakin doesn't exhibit anger toward Singleton, either, and marvels at his success. "Dean was just a very charismatic person," he says. "He could talk you into just about anything." But he confesses that "it saddens me that he had to use some of the methods he used to get where he is. He was so talented that he probably could have gotten there without being so neglectful of other human beings."
For Singleton, the lessons learned from the collapse of the Fort Worth Press were simple. "I found out that you had to have a business plan. I didn't have a business plan, and you've got to have a business plan up front, and know exactly what you want to do, what you're going to spend, and what you're going to bring in. And the business plan has got to produce a profit. My motto from that point on was, 'More cash in than cash out.'"
Whether or not he'd ever get another chance to exercise this hard-earned knowledge was another matter. As Singleton puts it, "I was broke, I didn't have any money, I owed the banks, and I didn't have a job." But in a matter of months, he bounced back. First, Singleton helped a Boston company sell a chain of suburban weeklies in Massachusetts that had defaulted, thereby earning enough money to right himself financially and buy some decent suits.
Re-energized, he began looking into purchasing an 8,000-circulation daily in Westfield, Massachusetts. He was about to pick it up with help from his new friends in Boston when he received a call from Joe Allbritton, a Texas banker who'd recently wound up with a package of media assets in Washington, D.C., including the Washington Star, after the previous owner, who'd received a personal loan from Allbritton, ran out of dough. According to Singleton, Allbritton, who didn't respond to Westword's request for an interview, offered to buy the Westfield paper for Singleton if he'd help Allbritton with the Star. Singleton promptly accepted, and after turning around Westfield ("The costs were too high -- we were in the black at the end of a month"), he picked up another three papers in New Jersey before moving to Washington, D.C., as president of the Star, circulation 250,000. At the time, Singleton was 27.
Allbritton was eventually forced to sell the Star because of FCC rules concerning cross-ownership, which state that one company can't own both a major newspaper and a television station in the same city. (Cross-ownership is among the hottest topics in the media business today; more on that later.) But Singleton stuck around, becoming president of Allbritton Communications. Then, in the early '80s, he was approached by Katherine Graham, legendary publisher of the Washington Post, who asked him to take over one of her troubled New Jersey papers, the Trenton Times. This offer led to discussions between Singleton, Graham and multimillionaire investor Warren Buffett, in which Graham and Buffett offered to bankroll a media company that Singleton would head. But Singleton says the concept fell apart after Buffett turned his nose up at the Gloucester County Times in Woodbury, New Jersey, the first paper he wished to buy: "It only cost $9.7 million, and Warren didn't want to get involved with anything that cost less than $100 million." He notes that he and Buffett reminisced about this period last week at Graham's funeral, which was among the largest gatherings of politicians (Dick Cheney, Bill Clinton) and business titans (Buffett, Bill Gates) in years.