Report: PiPress parent company likely headed for Kingdom Come

The brutal technological and economic storm that is either laying ruin to print media, nurturing the seeds of some as-yet undetermined new model of journalism, or both, shows no signs of abating. That's according to an article Tuesday on

The story is long on ratios and ratings and such, but it boils down to this: Several of the largest newspaper companies, including Tribune (owner of the L.A. Times and the Chicago Tribune), Media General (based in the southeast, and owner of the Tampa Tribune), and MediaNews (owner of the PiPress, among many others) are on the cusp of defaulting on their debt and plunging into bankruptcy. One company, Philadelphia Media Holdings LLC, which owns the Philadelphia Inquirer, defaulted on $85 million of debt on June 5.

Most of these companies, the article notes, badly misread the future landscape of the industry and grossly overspent when buying newspapers and expanding their empires over the past decade. With shrinking print readership, soaring printing costs, print advertising dollars drying up month by month, and with online ads not coming close to filling the breach, companies have resorted to mass layoffs (like McClatchy's recently-announced plan to shed 10 percent of its employees) or radical changes to the make-up of their newspapers (like Tribune's recent initiative to devote equal space to news stories and advertisements). But it hasn't been enough.

Perhaps most alarming in all this is that MediaNews is one of the companies seemingly in deep trouble. MediaNews, which bought the Pioneer Press in 2006, has a long track record of gutting once-proud newspapers and turning them into sad shells of their former selves. Staunchly anti-union, with clunky newspaper websites seemingly designed to minimize competition for the print product, and pursuing a business model based on underpaying under-supported and inexperienced reporters to the point of burnout before replacing them with a fresher crop, MediaNews, if anyone, has an eagle eye on the bottom line.

MediaNews CEO and visionary-in-chief Dean Singleton played down his company's woes when speaking to Bloomberg last week. He noted that it is saving cash by sharing editorial content with other publications, cutting pages, and lowering the weight of its newsprint. ``We plan ahead,'' Singleton said. ``We've been doing that for 25 years. That's not going to change just because we're going through an economic downturn.''

But as the article points out, the company since 2006 has had its credit rating slashed four levels by S&P to B-, or six levels above default. And on June 30, if MediaNews has the debt-to-cash flow ratio of 6.53 times it reported on Dec. 31, 2007, it would be in violation of its loans.

Translation: all those cost-saving measures don't do much good when there just isn't enough money coming in.

A call to Singleton's office wasn't immediately returned.

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