Amid all the doom and gloom about newspapers laying off staff and closing bureaus and even — as in the case of Tribune Co., parent company of the Chicago Tribune, Los Angeles Times and Baltimore Sun — filing for bankruptcy, there has been very little attention paid to one of the main reasons for those cutbacks and business failures. And I’m not talking about a decline in journalistic principles or the sudden departure of advertisers for other online properties, or anything as apocalyptic as that. One of the main reasons has very little to do with journalism and everything to do with the world of mergers and acquisitions.
That reason, as several astute observers have pointed out (including former newspaper exec Alan Mutter at his blog Reflections of a Newsosaur, and most recently a commenter at the political blog Talking Points Memo) is debt. In the case of Tribune Co. — acquired by corporate raider Sam “Grave Dancer” Zell — and several other major newspapers as well, acquisitions and corporate financing have created the conditions that led to much of the pain they have inflicted on the papers they own.
Tribune Co. has built up a staggering debt load of $13-billion, and chains like McClatchy (NYSE:MNI) have accumulated their own unwieldy debts over the past few years, by acquiring newspapers from family firms and smaller chains.
(read the rest of this post at the Nieman Journalism Lab blog)