Wednesday, October 29, 2008

More Times Jobs on the Block?

You gotta feel something for those poor souls at The Roanoke Times and attending properties who have been waiting anxiously and not altogether patiently for these last few months to find a new boss. Today Landmark Media Enterprises, screaming “credit crisis!” announced there wouldn't be any sale, for the time being. The various properties, save for the Virginian Pilot in Norfolk, which is talking to "an interested buyer," have been pulled from the market.

While Times Publisher Debbie Meade (pictured) hailed that as great news, she planned to announce in her own paper tomorrow that the job trimming process in Roanoke is likely not over.

Landmark Vice Chairman Richard Barry III is reported by the Virginian Pilot in Norfolk to have said the company is still talking to potential buyers for two other properties. He would not identify the businesses, but said neither is in Hampton Roads. “We had strong interest from buyers for all of our properties,” he said, “but the credit markets impeded their getting financing.” Landmark had been marketing The Times, Greensboro News & Record, a number of community newspapers and two TV stations.

Chairman/CEO Frank Batten Jr. said, “The credit crisis has made it virtually impossible for companies to obtain bank commitments to help finance acquisitions. And the recession has reduced revenue and earnings and made it very difficult to value a business. He said the company has no intention to sell properties "at a time of uncertainty at depressed values.”

The Times has put a lot of effort into prettying itself up for sale, including dramatic staff cuts that have left the newspaper a shell of its former self. One insider estimates the newsroom is half the size it was a little more than two years ago. The business pages are down to three writers and a part-time editor. The Blue Ridge Business Journal is being produced with a part-time editor.

Morale, rarely high in newsrooms which are often peopled with chronic malcontents, is at a dismal level, reports our insider. Publisher Meade, quoted in The Times' piece on the pullback, said, "We may have to slim down some more. We will do our best to do it very gradually and carefully and primarily through attrition."

Batten said Landmark will continue to operate most of its businesses “for several years before reinstituting the sales process,” but it will consider offers in the interim. That means more anxiety, one would assume, especially in the upper executive ranks, which traditionally get cleaned out in an ownership change.

“The market is awash in sellers and no buyers,” media analyst John Morton is reported to have said. “Right now it’s the credit, but it wasn’t happening before the credit tied up. People are very leery. They’re not sure what they should pay or how well the newspapers are going to come out of the recession they’ve been in.”

Landmark’s businesses, minus The Weather Channel Cos., have combined revenues exceeding $1 billion a year, Barry said.

Landmark has announced the retirements of three executives, including Bruce Bradley, the president of the Landmark Publishing Group, which has to mean something. I'm just not sure what.

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