The Long Beach Press-Telegram, one of Southern California’s oldest newspapers, is being sold to media magnate William Dean Singleton for an undisclosed price, it was announced Thursday.
The deal will give Singleton his fourth daily newspaper in Los Angeles County, making him the county’s second-largest publisher in terms of circulation and a more formidable rival to the county’s largest newspaper, the Los Angeles Times.
Singleton, who owns 139 newspapers nationwide through his Denver-based MediaNews Group, said the Press-Telegram will share resources with his other local papers: the Pasadena Star-News, San Gabriel Valley Tribune and Whittier Daily News, all of which he bought last year.
Analysts speculated that Miami-based Knight-Ridder Inc. sold the Long Beach newspaper for as much as $100 million. Knight-Ridder put the 100-year-old paper up for sale in June because its profit was not up to Knight-Ridder’s standards.
Singleton, known for his cost-cutting zeal, told about 100 editorial employees at a meeting in the newsroom Thursday that no mass layoffs are planned. But employees will be required to interview for their jobs and not everyone will be rehired, Singleton said.
That message was not well-received by the Los Angeles Newspaper Guild, which represents about 180 of the paper’s 450 employees. The union said it will “vigorously enforce its contract with the Press-Telegram.”
“A lot of people are concerned about their jobs,” said Natalie Shore, a business reporter at the Press-Telegram and chairwoman of the newspaper’s Guild unit. “Just because there is a sale doesn’t mean there should be a disruption in working conditions or salaries.”
Singleton is rumored to be eyeing the 201,669-circulation Los Angeles Daily News, which is on the auction block, but in an interview he declined to reveal his acquisition plans.
“I only know what I read in the newspaper,” Singleton cracked.
Singleton’s latest prize, which is being bought by Garden State Newspapers, an affiliate of MediaNews Group, posted unaudited daily circulation of 104,078 and Sunday circulation of 120,223 as of Sept. 30, according to the Audit Bureau of Circulations. The addition of the Press-Telegram will boost daily circulation at Singleton’s Los Angeles County newspapers to nearly 229,000 daily and slightly more than 245,000 on Sundays.
Singleton, president and chief executive of MediaNews Group, has followed a similar route in other markets, amassing several smaller publications to compete with a larger, dominant daily newspaper. At the same time, his newspapers are able to save money by consolidating administrative and business operations, such as advertising and circulation, as well as news operations, printing shared features sections, for example.
“Singleton is a leading proponent of clustering, and this certainly fits in with that,” said John Morton, a newspaper industry analyst in Silver Spring, Md.
Singleton said the Press-Telegram will focus on community news, just as his other newspapers do.
“Our whole game has always been local, local, local, and that’s what makes suburban papers work,” Singleton said. “The Press-Telegram is an excellent newspaper, and we expect to continue putting out an excellent newspaper here.”
Donald F. Wright, president and chief executive of the Los Angeles Times, did not comment on the growing size of Singleton’s operations other than to say: “We’re glad that the Long Beach paper has found a new owner and will continue to be part of the Southern California newspaper community.” The Times is a unit of Times Mirror Co.
But Bryce Nelson, a journalism professor at USC’s Annenberg School of Communication and a former reporter for the Los Angeles Times and the New York Times, said the prospect of Singleton acquiring so many local newspapers is “worrisome.”
“One hopes that Dean Singleton will keep up at least the standards that Knight-Ridder had, but that is a somewhat questionable proposition since he seems to be mostly interested in newspapers as profit centers,” Nelson said. Long Beach residents “‘probably deserve better than an asset sale from Knight-Ridder after 45 years and on the 100th anniversary of its founding.”
Knight-Ridder Chairman Tony Ridder said the company was selling the Press-Telegram with regret because “‘it has brought us both journalistic distinction and financial reward” in 45 years of ownership.
Tom Reilly, chairman of the Cal State Northridge journalism department, said the Press-Telegram sale represents “one less voice” in Southern California.
“The loss of competition never helps a community,” Reilly said.
“Los Angeles once had five or six daily newspapers,” said Murray Fromson, director of USC’s journalism department. “Now there isn’t the competitive energy that existed historically in this town.”
The Press-Telegram will be Singleton’s 11th daily newspaper in California. It joins a stable of Singleton publications--the biggest is the Denver Post--with a combined daily circulation of 1.3 million and a non-daily circulation of 1.9 million.
Singleton’s other California dailies are the Oakland Tribune, Hayward Daily Review, Fremont Argus, Tri-Valley Herald of Pleasanton, San Mateo County Times, Alameda Times Star and Eureka Times-Standard.
Singleton also owns a radio station in Graham, Texas, his hometown, which has a population of 10,000.
While Thursday’s developments brought anxiety to the Press-Telegram’s employees, there was also a bit a relief.
“You get to the point where you can pour only so much worry into your body,” said features writer John Woolard. “At least now we know.”