7News, Azteca America sold: Scripps back in CO two years after Rocky Mountain News closure

In February 2009, E.W. Scripps shut down the Rocky Mountain News, seemingly ending its major participation in the Colorado media market. Now, however, Scripps is back thanks to the purchase of KMGH-Channel 7 and three Azteca America stations in the state, which went on the block in June. Scripps CEO and president Rich Boehne talked to us about the deal.

"We've been in the station business for a long time," Boehne notes. "We have in recent years developed a very specific news and enterprise and journalism strategy on our TV side -- and we restructured our stations along those lines. Our ratings have been really good, and we've done it with quality journalism. But we're very conservative, diligent investors, and we haven't seen many opportunities to expand."

The McGraw-Hill station group provided one. The outlets for sale included KMGH (the call letters refer to the parent company), plus signals in Indianapolis, San Diego and Bakersfield. Also part of the package: five low-power Azteca America stations, with three in Colorado -- Denver, Fort Collins and Colorado Springs.

"They're very good markets," Boehne says, "including Denver, which we know really well and like a lot. It gave us a good opportunity to expand the group at a price" -- approximately $212 million for the whole megillah -- "that provides value for our shareholders."

Boehne concedes that 7News "didn't drive the deal. It wasn't what led us to it. But it certainly was a plus -- an attractive part of the station group."

The firm's exit from the Denver market two years ago wasn't seen as a negative, either. "We wouldn't have chosen that way to leave the market," he allows. "We would not have chosen to leave the market at all. We like Denver."

Right now, there are no plans to leverage Scripps's Rocky connection to give 7News a fresh identity. He'd rather focus on the station's attributes.

"Our goal will be to come in and be a very serious player on the news front in Denver, and based on the news culture they have, it doesn't look like that's going to be any kind of a challenge," he maintains. When Scripps tweaked its TV properties a while back, "we rebuilt our newsrooms around storytelling. We restructured things to make sure we succeed through enterprise, and we re-established investigative teams in our stations around the country. We rekindled faith in local TV as a vehicle for serious journalism. And that feels like a good fit with what they're already doing."

Regarding the Azteca America stations, "we looked at them as a local entry point into a growing marketplace," Boehne says. "We've done a lot of work over the years in the Spanish-language marketplace, and this gives us the opportunity to move in with a proven partner in markets where there's enough scale to try to build out the business. It was not a huge driver in the value of the group, but it was an enticing option that gives us access to a growing demographic. So I'm really eager to jump in and get to know the Azteca people."

He'd like to do likewise with the 7News crew. Thus far, he's met only a handful of folks, including general manager Byron Grandy, who like Boehne, worked on the journalism side before achieving executive status. He hopes he and other Scripps supervisors will visit Denver "in the next couple of weeks."

The welcome he receives should be warmer than the one he experienced when the Rocky shut down. Take Jeff Harris, KMGH's news director.

"Obviously, there's a sense of relief that the process has a name attached to it," Harris says. "And frankly, the name couldn't be any better. We're all really, really happy."

Harris, who has one former Rocky staffer on his payroll (Alan Gathright, a content producer for the station), hasn't heard employees express trepidation about Scripps given its decision to fold the Rocky. "All I can tell you is, as a broadcast company, they're one of the best. We're beside ourselves."

At this point, Boehne doesn't expect to make immediate changes at 7News. "We're just looking forward to getting to know everyone," he says.

And re-introducing Scripps to Colorado.

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Michael Roberts has written for Westword since October 1990, serving stints as music editor and media columnist. He currently covers everything from breaking news and politics to sports and stories that defy categorization.
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