There’s big news out there in newspaper land. The great digital experiment launched only two years ago by the Denver Post’s corporate owner – Digital First Media (DFM) — has blown up. And among the casualties may be the Post itself. (The project that blew up is called Thunderdome. Do with that as you will.)
Certainly there will be the expected collateral damage. According to a report from newspaper guru Ken Doctor, the 280 DFM daily and weekly papers, including the Post and Boulder Daily Camera, are likely to be on the market soon.
Since there’s not much of a market these days for newspapers, the Post should go cheap. And much of the early, entirely unsubstantiated chatter is centered on Phil Anschutz, the multi-billionaire media mogul who now owns the Colorado Springs Gazette and was thought to be much interested in the days when the Rocky Mountain News was on the verge of folding.
The biggest DFM stockholder is a hedge fund, Alden Capital Group, which specializes in distressed products. But the newspaper chain may be more distressed than Alden was counting on. This is just the kind of moment, historically, when someone like Dean Singleton enters the game to pick up a newspaper for pennies on the dollar, but Singleton, of course, was an earlier Alden casualty.
As of Wednesday afternoon, there wasn’t much news on the story in the Post. But the Salt Lake Tribune, another DFM paper, wrote that the elimination of Thunderdome — a digital news-sharing operation among 75 papers — was part of a $100 million company-wide cost reduction in a project apparently called “Catalyst.” Do with that as you will.
The Tribune says it and other papers in the chain must find 10 percent cuts in their budgets for the next year. If the Post faces a similar situation, that would almost certainly mean more layoffs — an area with which I’m all too familiar.
The closing of Thunderdome is a major embarrassment for DFM CEO John Paton, who has loudly and repeatedly criticized other newspaper owners for being stuck in the past. Thunderdome was at the center of DFM’s plan to own the future. If Ken Doctor is right about a sale – and Paton, in a blog message today, did not address the possibility — then Digital First Media would be the one moving to the past tense.
That may not be a bad thing for the Post, however. A rich owner who could get the Post cheaply might well be ready to invest in actually rebuilding what has become an ever-shrinking product. And as a bonus, DFM also owns the papers in Boulder, Loveland, Fort Morgan and Longmont. If someone were to pick up all those properties, that would give him/her something close to a Colorado monopoly. The (entirely unsubstantiated) thinking is: How could a media mogul possibly resist?
[ “Nice, but what do I do with it?” image by Thruhike98. ]