More Messages: Changing the Scripps

After the Rocky Mountain News entered into a joint-operating agreement with the Denver Post several years ago, many newspaper-business observers predicted that, figuratively speaking, the Rocky would soon go from wrapping fishes to sleeping with them. Instead, the tabloid has stayed above water thanks in large part to the steadfast commitment of Cincinnati-based E.W. Scripps, which owns the Rocky and several other local pubs, including the Boulder Daily Camera and the Colorado Daily.

Now, however, the corporation's resolve is in doubt. Yesterday, Editor & Publisher, an industry trade publication, released an article pointing out that in an investor conference call on January 9, Joseph NeCastro, Scripps' executive vice president/finance and administration, floated the idea of separating the newspaper unit from the outfit's other, more profitable divisions. That could mean either the creation of a newspaper-specific operation under the Scripps banner or the sale of properties to a single buyer or a whole slew of them.

After the E&P item was posted on Romenesko, a popular journalism website, Rocky managing editor Deb Goeken felt compelled to release a memo intended to calm the troops about the possibility of the paper being put on the market. "I want to reassure everyone that there is no sale imminent," she wrote, adding, "Business reporter David Milstead interviewed a company executive this morning who said it's important to note that nowhere in the question and answer did a Scripps exec discuss an outright sale." Of course, Goeken's soothing words wound up on Romenesko, too, as did a note to company publishers from Mark Contreras, Scripps' vice president of newspaper operations

Today, Milstead's piece about Scripps reflects the comment to which Goeken's memo refers, but doesn't allude to any inside-the-Rocky trepidation. The Post's take does, sort of; at least it cites Goeken's note. It also lingers longer on the prospect of the sale, perhaps even to MediaNews, owner of the Post; Dean Singleton, MediaNews' head honcho, declined to comment.

Singleton's silence on this topic shouldn't be taken as a sign that he'd seriously consider buying the Rocky. He'd likely make a lot more money having the only major daily newspaper in town than he would by propping up the Post's historical competitor. (Of course, he could buy it to keep rivals at bay, then shutter it...) But NeCastro's remarks can't be so easily dismissed. In all likelihood, he brought up the prospect of jettisoning the newspapers to gauge Wall Street's reaction to the idea -- and the investment experts quoted in the reports linked here universally got googly-eyed at the thought. As has been pointed out here and elsewhere in the past, newspapers simply aren't generating the hefty profits they once did, and that makes stock valuators nervous -- but not as nervous as the employees of Scripps publications. -- Michael Roberts

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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.
Contact: Michael Roberts