For the past week-plus, the embattled newspaper industry has been buzzing with chatter about the potential sale of print properties held by Digital First Media, the parent company of the Denver Post.
When contacted by Westword, Post CEO Mac Tully declined to comment about the possibility of a Post sale. But speculation shows no signs of dying down.
What started the rumors in the first place? The death of the Thunderdome.
The Thunderdome is described on the DFM web page dedicated to it as "Digital First Media's solution to providing content, support and coordination to its network of more than 100 local newsrooms, each with their own distinct communities and stories. Think of it as the wire service local newsrooms wish they had. Based on the strength of this network, Thunderdome is able to leverage the most-engaging news reports of the day -- produced by DFM journalists and through a growing portfolio of media partners -- for publication and distribution on all platforms."
This approach, along with initiatives such as the clunkily titled Project Unbolt, were envisioned by DFM's boss, John Paton, as a way to lead newspapers forward amid the digital revolution. But on April 2, Paton shared a blog entitled "Moving on From Thunderdome," in which he announced that the company had decided it was time to "go in a new direction."
This path is likely to involve abandoning DFM's newspaper properties, according to Ken Doctor, writing for Nieman Journalism Labs. Doctor characterizes the closing of Thunderdome and other cuts at the company as illustrating "the impact of unending high-single-digit loss in print advertising. The ongoing devastation in print is overwhelming even DFM's relatively faster pace of digital innovation.
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"The move also signals the fatigue of majority DFM owner Alden Global Capital -- and that it is readying its newspaper properties for sale," Doctor adds. "They're not yet on the market, but expect regional auctions of DFM properties (with clusters around the Los Angeles area, the Bay Area, New England, Colorado, Texas, New Mexico and Pennsylvania) -- unless Alden can find a single buyer, which is unlikely."
The Colorado papers to which Doctor alludes include the Post and the Boulder Daily Camera.
When asked about the prospect of a sale, Tully responded via e-mail. "We do not comment on such issues as speculation about transactions," he wrote.
Others certainly do, including Mike Littwin, a former Post columnist now writing for the Colorado Independent. In an item headlined "Rich-guy alert: Denver Post may be up for sale," Littwin mentions one possible suitor: Phil Anschutz, who he describes as " the multi-billionaire media mogul who now owns the Colorado Springs Gazette and was thought to be much interested in the days when the Rocky Mountain News was on the verge of folding."
Anschutz's name is mentioned every time a major Colorado media property is available, and he certainly has the resources to make such a purchase. (Frankly, he has the resources to buy his own country -- or maybe two.) Moreover, clustering the Post, the Camera and the Gazette, thereby deploying the economics of scale, may be the best way to turn a profit in a business that appears to be aging out of profitability. Note a recent item on the Romenesko media website quoting a newspaper carrier who appeared on Howard Stern's radio show. According to him, papers must be put on porches these days because "the only people who are buying [them] are eighty."
Here's that clip:
Of course, predictions about the demise of print are often premature. Plenty of prognosticators thought physical newspapers would already be a thing of the past, yet print ads continue to generate more revenue at at the average paper (including this one) than their online equivalent.
But that doesn't necessarily guarantee that potential buyers will line up to get a piece of the Post if and when it goes on the block.
Here's a 2012 video of John Paton talking up the Thunderdome.
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Send your story tips to the author, Michael Roberts.
More from our Media archive circa November 2013: "Denver Post CEO Mac Tully on new paywall, taking over from Dean Singleton."