25 Potential Buyers of the Boston Globe
by Ira Stoll
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The New York Times Company announced Wednesday that it had hired an investment banker, Evercore Partners, to try to sell its New England Media Group, which includes the Boston Globe. Here, in alphabetical order, are 25 potential buyers of the Boston Globe, arranged alphabetically, with some thoughts about why each would or wouldn't be interested.
Mike Barnicle's column ran in the Globe from 1973 to 1998, and he was personally identified with the paper and the city in ways that most contemporary newspaper columnists can only aspire to. Has potential access to capital via his wife, Anne Finucane, a senior Bank of America executive. For him, it would be a triumphant return to the Globe after a difficult parting. But he's got little history as either a deal-maker or an operating newspaper executive, so his involvement would likely be as part of some team with a wider array of skills and resources.
Block Communications owns the Toledo Blade and the Pittsburgh Post Gazette, which employs, in executive editor David Shribman, someone who would make a very good editor of the Boston Globe. Alas, the Blocks seem to have their hands full in Toledo and Pittsburgh and don't have the New England ties that Mr. Shribman does, so this one seems like a long shot.
Warren Buffett/Berkshire Hathaway: Mr. Buffett, 82, got early exposure to capitalism as a youth running newspaper delivery routes in Washington, D.C. His Berkshire Hathaway has long owned the Buffalo News and invested in the Washington Post Company, where Mr. Buffett for some time served on the board. More recently, he paid a reported $200 million for the Omaha World-Herald, and he's also snapped up the Greensboro, N.C., News & Record and the Richmond, Va. Times-Dispatch. Mr. Buffett is the sort of deep-pocketed buyer the Times would love to sell to. Mr. Buffett doesn't have strong Massachusetts ties the way he does in Omaha or Washington, though the holding company Berkshire Hathaway did start out as a New Bedford, Mass., textile manufacturer.
Comcast/NECN: Cable television companies have sometimes seen newspapers as strategic acquisitions. On New York's Long Island, Cablevision bought the newspaper Newsday. The Comcast cable company operates the New England Cable News channel, which would have some synergies with the Globe news operation, and CEO Brian Roberts, though based in Philadelphia, has a place on Martha's Vineyard. Comcast has done media acquisitions in the past with NBC and Daily Candy. The NBC affiliate in Boston, channel 7, is owned by Sunbeam Television, which probably means there'd be no cross-ownership problem with the Globe and NBC.
Jack Connors: A founder of the Hill, Holliday, Connors, Cosmopulos advertising agency, Mr. Connors stepped down last year as chairman of the board of Partners HealthCare System, which includes some of Boston's biggest and best hospitals. Like Mr. Barnicle, he's pushing 70. A lengthy Boston Globe profile in 2007 put his fortune at $500 million and said he had "tried and failed (for now) to buy this newspaper from the New York Times Co."
ESPN/Disney: Some large part of the value of the Globe is its sports coverage, which Boston's rabid Celtics, Red Sox, and Patriots fans consume along with their morning Dunkin Donuts. ESPN, which hired Globe baseball writer Peter Gammons (who eventually moved on) and then Globe basketball writer Jackie MacMullan, could buy the Globe sports section and then sell the rest of the paper on to some other buyer. The FCC cross-ownership restrictions would probably not apply because though ESPN parent Disney has an ABC affiliate in Boston, channel 5, that station is owned by Hearst.
Gatehouse Media owns a bunch of small dailies, weeklies, and Web sites in the cities and towns surrounding Boston. But with its stock trading in the pennies, it's not at all clear that the company has the balance sheet to complete an acquisition the size of the Globe.
Donald Graham/The Washington Post Company: Mr. Graham just hired Marty Baron, the former Globe editor who knows as much about the paper and its operations as anyone. And rescuing the Globe from the Times and making a success of it would be a good way for Mr. Graham to get a kind of revenge on Arthur Sulzberger Jr. for wresting away the International Herald Tribune, which the Times and Post companies had run as a partnership. Even so, the Post Company has its hands full with its newspaper in Washington, and Mr. Graham's sale of Newsweek shows he has no sentimentality about letting go of properties with little in the way of future growth prospects.
John Henry: A stake in the Boston Red Sox and its associated sports cable channel was part of the Times Company's Boston operation for some time. If Mr. Henry, who owns the Red Sox as part of a broader group, bought the Globe, it would reunite the newspaper with the sports operation. The rationale here is similar to the idea of selling the Globe to ESPN; a large part of the value is the sports coverage, and the advertisers who want to buy signs at Fenway Park or television commercials during Red Sox games are presumably the same ones who would want to reach Globe readers. On the other hand, other than the sports network that covers the Red Sox, he doesn't have much in the way of experience in the news business.
Houghton Mifflin Harcourt: Pearson, the big education company, owns the Financial Times; the Washington Post Company, another big education company (via its Kaplan unit) owns the Post; why shouldn't HMH, another big education company, based in Boston (and, disclosure, the publisher of my forthcoming book) buy the Globe? There's plenty of overlap; the Globe photo archives could be useful to HMH, and the Globe recently excerpted an HMH-published book by former Red Sox manager Terry Francona.
Chris Hughes: The Harvard-educated Facebook co-founder bought The New Republic; he could probably get more clout with the Globe, which has some significant circulation in New Hampshire, an early presidential primary state.
Abigail Johnson, with a net worth estimated by Forbes at $11.8 billion, could certainly afford to buy the Globe. She and her family owns and run the Fidelity mutual fund empire. They were in the Boston-area suburban newspaper business at one time, but got out of it.
Seth Klarman, who manages money at the Boston-based Baupost Group hedge fund, could also probably afford to buy the Globe; the 2011 tax return of his family foundation shows he donated $50 million that year. He's invested in the news business recently, serving as chairman of the Times of Israel, an English language, Web-only newspaper covering the Jewish state.
Aaron Kushner launched a well-publicized effort to buy the Globe a few years ago but wound up buying the Orange County, Calif., Register instead. Trying to turn around both papers at the same time would probably be a bigger financing and managerial challenge than Mr. Kushner can handle, and if the Times Company wanted to sell to him, it probably would have done so already.
Jared Kushner started in the real estate business fixing up properties in Somerville while he was a student at Harvard; now he's also in the newspaper business as the owner of the New York Observer. He might have the right combination of money, optimism, and hubris to be a bidder, though it's not clear that he has much interest in getting involved in a big project outside his New York-area base.
Rupert Murdoch/News Corp.: The press has been full of speculation that Mr. Murdoch's new print-centric publishing spinoff (the Fox part of the business is in a different company) would buy the Chicago Tribune or the Los Angeles Times. Mr. Murdoch's Dow Jones already owns a bunch of Boston-area newspapers, including the Cape Cod Times, the Portsmouth (N.H.) Herald, and the New Bedford Standard-Times. The Globe would be a great fit, but he'd probably have to overpay to overcome the Times' resistance to selling to a competitor they dislike and ideologically differ with. Here the FCC's cross-ownership rules are again an issue; News Corp. does own the Fox affiliate in Boston, channel 25, and it was Ted Kennedy who forced Mr. Murdoch to sell the Boston Herald. So there's a long history.
Martin Peretz: The former editor-in-chief and owner of the New Republic recently took to the pages of the Wall Street Journal to voice his displeasure at the direction the new management has taken the magazine. Mr. Peretz has roots on Cape Cod and in Cambridge and has written articles taking issue with the Globe's coverage of Israel. Like Mr. Barnicle, he'd be more likely to emerge as part of a group than as a sole proprietor.
Russel Pergament: The energetic entrepreneur who founded AM New York, a free tabloid, and the Tab chain of weeklies covering the Boston suburbs, Mr. Pergament isn't a household name like Mr. Buffett or Mr. Murdoch, but if you were buying the Globe and wanted a business-side success, you'd want him on your team, or at least, not competing with you.
Patrick Purcell/Boston Herald: Mr. Purcell has close relations with Mr. Murdoch. Lots of two-newspaper towns have become one-newspaper towns over the past few decades, though in Boston, the existence of the Herald hasn't really prevented the Globe from raising prices. It'd be odd for the Globe to be bought by its smaller, politically conservative tabloid rival — as if the New York Post bought the New York Times. But because the Globe has a contract to print and distribute the Herald, Mr. Purcell has a stake in how all this shakes out.
Sumner Redstone/CBS: Mr. Redstone has Boston roots, and the CBS-owned-and-operated station in Boston, channel 4, already has a partnership with the Globe. Again, those FCC media cross-ownership regulations come into play.
Mitt Romney: As a turnaround expert at Bain Capital, Mr. Romney has some experience in situations like the Globe. And surely he'd get a kick out of being the new boss of all those political reporters who were sniping at him when he was campaigning. He probably has the money, or the ability to raise it. But as in the case of a potential bid from Mr. Murdoch , the Sulzberger family might prefer a lower bid from a more ideologically acceptable buyer, if the non-family shareholders or directors don't try to force the issue.
Randall Smith/Alden Global Capital: A hedge fund with a track record of buying up newspapers at bottom-feeder prices, these guys would be interested, but maybe not at the price that the Times Company wants to get.
Taylor Family: This is the family that owned and managed the Globe before selling it to the Times Company. Cousins Stephen and Benjamin Taylor are the key figures and have been involved with prior unsuccessful efforts to buy back the Globe in partnership with other investors.
Jack Welch: The former GE CEO was reportedly involved in a 2006 effort to buy the Globe along with Mr. Barnicle and Mr. Connors. His Twitter feed discloses him to still have a lively interest in Boston's sports teams. He's 77 and spends a lot of time in New York. He might be a minority partner, but it's hard to see him leading an effort to buy the Globe.
Mortimer Zuckerman: The owner of the New York Daily News runs a real estate empire called Boston Properties. The strengths of his U.S. News magazine are an annual college rating issue (and associated Web site) and an annual hospital rating issue (and associated Web site). Both the education and health care issues play to beats that are historically strengths of the Globe and of the Boston region. This is an intriguing possibility, and though Mr. Zuckerman isn't going to get in a bidding war with Warren Buffett, it's easy to see some kind of trade in which Mr. Murdoch gets the Daily News to combine with the New York Post, while Mr. Zuckerman gets the Boston Globe to combine with the Herald and the papers in Cape Cod, Portsmouth N.H., and New Bedford. If the federal government complains on antitrust grounds, Messrs. Zuckerman, Murdoch, and Sulzberger can all say that at least the deal doesn't violate the FCC's cross-ownership restrictions, which forced them into it.
Whoever ends up buying the Globe will have a heck of a story to cover. John Kerry is secretary of state, Elizabeth Warren is the junior senator, a new mayor will eventually replace Tom Menino, and the 2016 New Hampshire primary campaign unfolds just over the border. The state is at the forefront of the health and education costs that are challenging family budgets and the national budget. Maybe, after reviewing the bids, the Sulzberger family will decide to do what it did the last time around, and hold on to the thing.
I'm an interested party as an online reader of the Globe and as someone who grew up in Massachusetts and still has family ties there. If I had the $150 million or $300 million that the Times company probably wants to part with the asset, I'd rather spend it on starting and building a new Web site than on purchasing some legacy print news operation and its associated union contracts. On the other hand, I've also learned from experience that starting something new, even with a lot of money, can be hard. And anyway, that's why the bankers at Evercore get paid those big fees, to talk buyers into paying more than they should.
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