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Rocky Mountain News gets temporary reprieve

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Yesterday's blog headlined "The Latest From the Rocky Mountain News Grapevine About the Paper's Future" noted that the E.W. Scripps-owned tabloid had reported very little about its potential sale since December 24. That changed this morning with the publication of "Efforts to Sell Rocky Could Extend Into Next Week," an informative and evenhanded update credited to David Milstead and Jeff Smith. The piece confirms a comment posted on the aforementioned More Messages blog -- that Scripps would accept offers until the close of business on Friday, January 16. "Any bids will be carefully evaluated as quickly as possible," Scripps spokesman Tim King told the Rocky, "but there's no specific timetable for completing that process."

This last phrase gives Scripps even more wiggle room than did the "mid-January" terminology used by company CEO Rich Boehne in December interviews, and it presumably prevents other news agencies from coming up with their own deadlines, as did Channel 7 in a piece that identified today, January 15, as the drop-dead date. In addition, it provides a welcome glimmer of hope to Rocky employees who've feared that the end might come this week.

Of course, only insiders know the true motivation behind the delay -- and the lack of information will naturally inspire speculation...

One possibility: Credible buyers are looking seriously at taking over the paper. Spokesman King says a "handful" of potential purchasers asked for info packages about the property -- a comment that pretty much echoes remarks he made in late December. Milstead and Smith add, "He would not say whether Scripps already had received what it considered an 'expression of interest.'" But his lack of specificity doesn't prove that he's bluffing. While it still seems improbable to me that a buyer will step up in this economy, I'd like nothing more than to be wrong.

And if there really aren't any legitimate bidders in the offing? Scripps may be waiting to see what happens with efforts by Dean Singleton's MediaNews Group to reopen labor agreements with the Denver Post and the Denver Newspaper Agency. MediaNews representatives have said the firm needs to find $20 million in savings by Friday -- something that seems increasingly iffy. Scripps executives may feel that if Singleton doesn't get what he wants, he'll be in a more vulnerable position when it comes to dealing with the Rocky. Would he be open to Scripps buying him out and establishing the Rocky as Denver's only paper? That's the longest of shots, but not so outrageous as to be dismissed out of hand. A more likely prospect: Scripps thinks it might be able to strike a better deal with a weakened MediaNews Group when it comes to closing down the joint-operating agreement between the Post and the Rocky. Under these circumstances, Singleton might be convinced to pay Scripps a sizable percentage of DNA revenues not to publish the Rocky, as happened after Scripps shut down its half of a JOA in Albuquerque not so long ago.

We should have definitive answers soon, but not as soon as many observers expected. This guessing game just went into overtime.

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