A blog published last week noted that the Denver Post had managed to report about an impending bankruptcy filing by the holding company of its parent firm, MediaNews Group, without using the word "bankruptcy" in the headline -- a neat example of spin.
When the filing finally took place, on January 22, these gyrations continued. An Associated Press report published in the Seattle Times includes numerous elements that don't turn up in a version of the same story published on the Post's website -- including details about MediaNews Group boss Dean Singleton's still-hefty salary.
The distinctions are obvious right at the top. First, here's the Times's lead paragraph:
Another newspaper publisher desperate to dump debt has filed for bankruptcy protection in hopes of recovering from an advertising meltdown that has obliterated much of the print media's revenue.
And here's how the Post piece kicks off:
The owner of The Denver Post, San Jose Mercury News and 52 other daily newspapers filed for bankruptcy protection Friday, joining the procession of publishers choking on too much debt. The filing by Affiliated Media Inc., the holding company of MediaNews Group, was expected. The privately held company had said Jan. 15 that it would seek to reorganize its finances in bankruptcy court.
Even more interesting are these paragraphs from the Times:
The reorganization plan calls for Singleton to receive a $634,000 salary and an annual bonus of up to $500,000 as Affiliated's chief executive. He will also continue to be paid $360,000 annually under a separate agreement with The Denver Post Corp., according to court documents.
Joseph Lodovic IV, Affiliated's president, will get a $1 million salary, an annual bonus of up to $500,000 and 3 percent of the reorganized company's stock, according to court documents. He has already earned $500,000 in bonuses for overseeing recent changes at the Denver newspaper and helping to gather lender support for the reorganization. He is eligible for an additional bonus of up to $250,000, contingent on the timing of the plan's approval.
And in the Post? This material doesn't exist.
Clearly, anyone hoping for an unvarnished report about the MediaNews bankruptcy shouldn't expect to find one in the Post, whose Friday article again managed to keep the B-word out of the headline ("Chapter 11" was used as a substitute). Fortunately, though, there's plenty of intriguing analysis being done, with the best I've found coming courtesy of Alan D. Mutter's Reflections of a Newsosaur blog.
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For instance, a January 20 offering identifies the Hearst Corp. as the biggest loser in the filing -- Hearst forfeited $317 million in cash, as opposed to only paper losses by Singleton and his partner, Richard B. Scudder. According to Mutter, neither Singleton nor Scutter "will lose a nickel in the bankruptcy, because neither ever put any of his own money into the company."
Also of note: Mutter speculates that MediaNews Group could use the bankruptcy to bust up its existing joint-operating agreements. And in another essay, he dubs Singleton the "Evel Knievel of newspaper publishers" for his willingness to jump back into the fray even after sustaining enormous damage to his enterprises. Mutter concludes:
Singleton not only knows and loves newspapers, but he also is uniquely un-squeamish among publishers in doing whatever it takes to make a publication profitable.
In his pursuit of finding sustainability for newspapers, nothing is sacred to Singleton. If he can merge production or circulation operations, he will. If he can consolidate newsrooms or ad sales, he will. If it is cheaper to outsource customer service or ad make-up, he will.
He has done it before and, if the opportunity presents itself, he will do it again.
No other senior newspaper executive is as daring and seemingly impervious to pain as Dean Singleton.
That's why he'll climb out of this wreck, saddle up and start all over again.
These passages aren't wholly negative toward Singleton. Indeed, there's an aspect of them that's rather admiring. But you won't read anything like them in the Denver Post.