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Baseball fans reading the Chicago Tribune today might have found the brightest spot in an otherwise grim news day for the Tribune’s parent company, called the Tribune Company. The Chicago Cubs are specifically not part of the bankruptcy plan Tribune filed this morning, but The Los Angeles Times and the Chicago Tribune are.
The company owes about $13 billion in debt after taking itself private last year.
Marketplace’s Jeff Tyler reports.
Jeff Tyler: Despite the dire condition of the newspaper industry, few companies seek bankruptcy protection.
John Morton: It’s exceptional for a newspaper company to go into bankruptcy. In fact, I can’t recall one doing it in the last 30 or 40 years.
That’s media consultant John Morton.
Morton: Tribune Company, compared with some others, publishes more large city newspapers. And it’s those kinds of newspapers that have suffered most during this advertising downturn.
Ad revenue is down 10 to 20 percent across the industry. But when the Tribune went private, it took on $13 billion in debt.
Ken Doctor is a news industry analyst for the research firm Outsell.
Ken Doctor: We knew that when Sam Zell finalized the purchase of the Tribune just a year ago that it was a house of cards.
That’s not to say that the L.A. Times or the Baltimore Sun are unprofitable. John Morton says all the Tribune papers are profitable. But the company’s lenders insist it meets certain cash-flow requirements.
Morton: So you may be profitable but you may not be profitable enough at all these newspapers to do that.
The Tribune turned to Plan B — selling assets. But between the recession and the credit squeeze, it’s been unable to unload the Chicago Cubs or other properties. So, Doctor says, the Tribune is cutting back on paper, print and staff.
Doctor: The iconic nature of the Tribune Company is slowly ebbing away. And most importantly for the readers of those newspapers, they’ve noticed that the journalism is ebbing away.
Publications like the Christian Science Monitor are going Internet-only. But Doctor says online ad revenues can’t support as many reporters.
Doctor: Since there is so much less money online than there is in print, that means instead of having 200 reporters in your newsroom, you might be able to afford 20 or 40.
Or none at all. Analysts expect some newspapers will disappear altogether, perhaps as soon as next year.
I’m Jeff Tyler for Marketplace.
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