Transcript from Denver JOA press conference

Thu, May 11, 2000 by Tim Stautberg

REMARKS BY KEN LOWEPresident and chief operating officerThe E.W. Scripps CompanyGood afternoon and thank you for joining us on such relatively short notice.I’m Ken Lowe, president and chief operating officer of The E.W. Scripps Company, parent company of the Denver Rocky Mountain News and with me is Dean Singleton, CEO of MediaNews Group, parent company of The Denver Post.Dean and I have invited you here today to talk about the future of the News and The Post, a subject we believe is of considerable importance to the entire Denver community.As you are well aware, the News and The Post have been waging a battle for circulation and advertising share unlike any this country has seen for quite some time. While Denver has been rewarded with two Pulitzer Prize-winning metropolitan newspapers – newspapers, I might add, that are the fastest growing in the United States - the war has exacted a cost that threatens this community’s rich newspaper heritage.For Scripps and its shareholders, the war’s financial impact has taken a toll. Since 1990, the News has sustained operating losses of $123 million, most of which were related to prudent efforts to maintain and grow its share of Denver’s newspaper market. Those efforts have resulted in substantial circulation growth and a modest increase in advertising share, but, unfortunately, the News hasn’t been able to convert those gains into revenue growth sufficient to generate an operating profit. Obviously, this is a situation that Scripps cannot abide over time.So what does this mean? It means that we’ve done everything we know to do as prudent newspaper publishers. But despite our best efforts, the reality of newspaper economics today dictates that we take another tack, that we choose the alternative Mr. Singleton and I are announcing here today. That is, that Scripps and MediaNews have agreed to form a jointly owned company that will produce and market the Denver Rocky Mountain News and The Denver Post and secures the future of competitive newspaper reporting in Denver well into the 21st Century. This agreement, which must be approved by the U.S. Attorney General, is allowed under the provisions of the Newspaper Preservation Act of 1970, which declares that it is in the public interest – and the public policy of the United States – to maintain an independent, and competitive newspaper press.Tomorrow Mr. Singleton and Bill Burleigh, the chairman and CEO of The E.W. Scripps Company, will travel to Washington, D.C., to hand deliver to the U.S. Department of Justice our application seeking approval for a joint operating agreement. In that application, we will declare that the News is in probable danger of financial failure, absent relief in the form of this agreement.Specifically, Scripps and MediaNews have agreed to create a third entity that will be responsible for all of the business functions of both newspapers for the next fifty years. The new company, which will be called the Denver Newspaper Agency, will be equally owned – fifty-fifty -- by Scripps and MediaNews. It will be managed by a CEO chosen by a four-member board of directors, two appointed by Scripps and two by MediaNews. The agency will oversee printing and production, advertising and circulation sales and distribution of both newspapers.On the editorial side, the News and The Post will compete as vigorously as ever, maintaining independent news operations, setting their own editorial policy, and retaining their own popular features and columnists. Both newspapers will be published Monday through Friday mornings as they are today – the News in its tabloid format and the Post as a broadsheet.On weekends, broadsheet editions will be published under a joint masthead and will include editorial pages and features from both newspapers. The News will be responsible for the preparation of the Saturday edition and the Post will prepare the Sunday paper. But as I said, both weekend editions will include some content from both papers.Our decision to enter into this joint operating arrangement, we believe, is positive for all concerned – the Denver Rocky Mountain News, The Denver Post and the entire Denver community, which, of course, includes our readers, our advertisers and our employees.For News readers, it means they’ll be able to find familiar names like Gene Amole, Holger Jensen, Bill Johnson, Peter Blake, Vincent Carroll and Denver Square’s Ed Stein.For our advertisers, it means retaining a prominent platform for commercial messages in a media market that is becoming increasingly fragmented. It’s important to remember that the News and The Post aren’t alone. Denver’s newspapers also are competing with 14 broadcast television and 37 radio stations, a half dozen daily newspapers, dozens of community and ethnic weekly newspapers, independent telephone directories, an alternative paper, a business paper, at least five direct mail companies and the rapidly increasing presence of the Internet. For our employees and their families, this joint operating agreement preserves good paying jobs.Publishing two large metropolitan morning newspapers, in their current formats, means we’ll need both production plants to handle the sheer volume. We currently anticipate that a minimal number of jobs will be lost once the agreement is approved and implemented, and we intend to make every effort to achieve those employment-related efficiencies more through attrition, over time, than through layoffs.Most importantly, this agreement will preserve competitive newspaper journalism in Denver by putting the News and The Post on solid, long-term financial footing. Joint operating agreements, such as the one we’re announcing here today, have proven successful in preserving independent and competitive journalism in Seattle, Detroit, Cincinnati, Las Vegas, Tucson and a number of other cities where they are currently in effect. We’re confident that it will work in Denver as well, sparing it the fate of many other comparably sized cities where competitive newspaper reporting has been snuffed out.Let me step back a moment to assure you that in the interim – while we wait for a decision from the Justice Department – it will be business as usual at the News and The Post. We will continue to compete on every level while our application is pending.Now, before I turn it over to Mr. Singleton, let me just say that as president and chief operating officer of Scripps, our company places great value on the long relationship we’ve had with the Denver community, and we’re proud of the many remarkable accomplishments of the News and its dedicated staff, which I believe to be the best in the country. Working for a newspaper involved in a circulation war as intense as this one requires an almost unimaginable amount of self-sacrifice and perseverance. Everyone at the News, the ad sales people, those who work in production and distribution, the marketing staff, and reporters and editors should feel very proud of what they have achieved. Their hard-fought victories have made it possible for us to enter this joint operating agreement as an equal partner, and to guarantee that the News will be here for its many audiences for years to come.As the parent company of this community’s oldest continuously operated business – and the second oldest in Colorado – Scripps looks forward to a long and bright future in Greater Denver and the Rocky Mountain region.REMARKS BY DEAN SINGLETONVice chairman, president and CEOMediaNews Group, Ind.Thanks, Ken.Today, MediaNews and Scripps have taken an important step in securing a bright future for journalism in our city and our state. I’m very proud that we got here. For more than 100 years – from gold rushes to cyberspace, from gasoline wars to World Wars, through our town’s growth from a mining outpost to a major metropolis – Denver has been a terrific two-paper community. All of us have benefited enormously from the intense and exciting competition between our great newspapers. Over the last several years, that great rivalry has intensified. Our two newspapers have fought hard, but fair, for every scrap of news, every novel approach, every technological edge, every advertiser, and especially, every subscriber. But that competition has not occurred in a vacuum, and over the last few years, we’ve found ourselves battling for both market-share and mind-share – not only with each other, but with a growing number of electronic and interactive sources of news, information and entertainment.Both of our newspapers have risen to the occasion heroically. We have raised the stakes and raised the bar … cut our costs and increased our resources … bought and built, reached out and renewed, invested and innovated.The results of this competition have been extraordinary. Powerful gains in circulation. A Pulitzer Prize for each paper this year. And two effective, creative, cutting-edge news Web sites.But as beneficial as this competition has been for media consumers and our community, it has created a financial hardship for both papers that is not sustainable over time. There is no question in our minds that our situation is exactly what Congress had in mind when it passed the Newspaper Preservation Act, and we are confident that the joint operating agreement we have forged will gain the approval of the Justice Department in a reasonable timeframe.These joint operating agreements have proven a successful way in other major markets of helping outstanding newspapers remain strong and independent at a time of intensifying competition from other media. As we considered such an option in Denver, both our organizations were committed to finding an answer that would put us on a sound financial basis while ensuring the total independence and complete integrity of our proud and highly professional reporters and editorial staff.Furthermore, both our organizations were committed to finding an answer that would preserve jobs – while absolutely assuring that Denver remained a two-newspaper town, with all the benefits that would result from renewing and reinvigorating our competition on a more realistic basis.There will be areas under the agreement where we will cooperate closely. Our business affairs – from advertising to printing to circulation – will be under the control of a new entity, the Denver Newspaper Agency. The agency will have a four-person board of directors, with Scripps and MediaNews each appointing two members, ensuring an equal say for both newspapers in our joint destiny. The board will select a first-rate chief executive officer to run the agency’s business operations.And although The Post and the News will continue to publish separately on weekday mornings, Monday through Friday, we will put out joint weekend editions. These weekend papers will contain editorial sections from both the News and The Post, with the News assuming responsibility for most of the editorial content on Saturdays and The Post responsible for the most of content on Sundays. Scripps and MediaNews look forward to working together harmoniously in the management of this agency and in putting out the best weekend newspapers in the Rocky Mountain region.But The Post and the News will continue to go head-to-head aggressively, asking no quarter and giving none, where it counts: in serving our readers and our community. It was hard work structuring the agreement that will take our rivalry to a new level in a new era. But we are convinced it will prove rewarding, not just for us, but for a community whose rich history we have chronicled as competitors … and whose great tradition we will carry forward as partners in our market, but combatants in the marketplace of ideas.