New owner to face questions from Pioneer Press staff

Pioneer Press: April 27, 2006
MediaNews Group, Inc. announced Wednesday that it will be buying the St. Paul Pioneer Press and three other papers recently acquired by Star Tribune parent McClatchy, Co. for $1 billion.
MPR Photo/Mark Zdechlik

Dean Singleton is known for his profit-consciousness. Singleton reportedly bought the Pioneer Press and three California-based papers for $1 billion. He spent Wednesday visiting his new West Coast purchases. A spokesman in his Denver office says Singleton is expected to fly to St. Paul to meet with the employees of the Pioneer Press later Thursday.

Singleton will face questions from reporters like Jack Sullivan.

Dean Singleton
William Dean Singleton, Vice Chairman & CEO of Media News Group, and Publisher of the Denver Post and Salt Lake Tribune, pauses as he testifies during a hearing on media ownership before the Senate Committee on Commerce, Science, and Transportation May 13, 2003.
Photo by Alex Wong/Getty Images

"Is this an owner who's going to be committed to keeping the Pioneer Press very strong, keeping it a very strong part of the civic and community life of the east metro of the Twin Cities?" asks Sullivan. "We certainly hope that's the case. But right now there's a lot of unanswered questions."

Sullivan, who is also a representative for the Newspaper Guild, says his main concern is how the sale affects the status of the labor agreement between the union and the paper. The Guild represents about 470 employees at the newspaper.

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Sullivan says Singleton may not have to honor the contract because he's buying one asset of the McClatchy company -- not taking control of the whole company.

"There's just uncertainty about the entire labor situation, whether that's keeping the same number of jobs in the building that are here right now, keeping the same pay scales and that sort of thing," says Sullivan. "That, to most people here, is not a selfish question. Although obviously we all want to know what our individual futures are going to be, but when we look at the newspaper collectively, the strength of this paper is the strength of the people who put it out every day."

Is this an owner who's going to be committed to keeping the Pioneer Press a very strong part of the civic and community life of the east metro of the Twin Cities? We certainly hope that's the case.

The sale of the Pioneer Press by McClatchy has also raised questions with people outside the newspapers offices.

Six weeks ago, McClatchy bought the Knight Ridder chain for $4.5 billion. McClatchy, which also owns the Pioneer Press' main competitor, the Star Tribune of Minneapolis, stood to run afoul of antitrust regulations and decided to sell the St.Paul paper.

But some, including the U.S. Department of Justice, are looking closely at the deal, which, in effect, allowed McClatchy to choose who would be its competition. The Justice Department has requested information from McClatchy regarding its transaction.

Minnesota Attorney General Mike Hatch says he wants details about the sale, which also involves financial backing from the Hearst Corp.

"We look at the transaction -- if there was some concern that it was not an arms' length deal, that the competitor would not be viable -- then we would say that agreement is in violation of anti-trust laws," Hatch said. "That it's what they call a conspiracy -- it's an agreement between two parties and in this case maybe three."

Hatch, who is running for governor, says he's not making any allegations of wrongdoing in regard to the sale.

Others say just because the deal allowed McClatchy to choose its rival doesn't mean the two papers won't compete for readers.

Jane Kirtley, director of the Silha Center for the Study of Media Ethics and Law at the University of Minnesota, said competing newspapers are good both for their companies and for readers. She says Singleton has proven that he can run a successful paper.

"Singleton, whatever else you might think of him, has made a success out of running newspapers," Kirtley said. "That's positive to me. Bringing in somebody who is familiar with the business and has been successful is a good thing."

Singleton has been unavailable for comment, but he told the Pioneer Press he intends to vigorously compete with the Minneapolis newspaper. He says he plans to keep Par Ridder as publisher of the Pioneer Press.

McClatchy intends to keep 20 other former Knight Ridder newspapers, which together with the 12 it already owns, makes the company the No. 2 U.S. newspaper company after Gannett.