William Dean Singleton dramatically expanded his presence in the newspaper industry in Southern California with the announcement Thursday that his MediaNews Group will buy the Los Angeles Daily News from Jack Kent Cooke's estate for an undisclosed price.
Singleton, 46, expects to take ownership of the Daily News in January, and with his pending purchase of the Long Beach Press-Telegram from Knight-Ridder Inc., he will own five newspapers in Los Angeles County, with a combined daily circulation of 430,644.
Denver-based MediaNews, whose flagship property is the Denver Post, already owns the Pasadena Star-News, San Gabriel Valley Tribune and the Whittier Daily News.
Analysts said adding the Daily News, with its base of readers in the San Fernando Valley, would give Singleton a collection of newspapers encircling Los Angeles and help him lure more big advertisers.
"Singleton has historically followed this strategy of clustering his properties," said Peter Appert, an analyst at Alex. Brown.
The Daily News was purchased in 1985 by Cooke, the sports and media magnate who paid $176 million to buy it from the Tribune Co., a whopping 44 times the paper's 1985 profit. Cooke then invested heavily in a new printing plant.
Cooke, who also owned the Washington Redskins and the Chrysler building in Manhattan, died in April at the age of 84. "You can be assured that the Cooke estate is taking a huge haircut [loss] on this," Appert said.
Singleton broke the news Thursday morning of the sale to Daily News employees at their Woodland Hills office.
In an interview, Singleton said: "We plan to keep all our employees and build from what we have. This newspaper is not one that is broke. It's already very efficient."
Singleton said he had considered buying the Daily News since 1993, and that the paper is profitable. The paper has a circulation of more than 201,000 daily and nearly 215,000 on Sundays, the latest audited figures show.
"It's in a very exciting market with a lot of growth potential, and it's contiguous to newspapers we already have," he said. "What it does is give us a lot more synergy in news operations and sharing news resources. But more importantly, it makes us a bigger package to market to advertisers and gets us noticed."
When Singleton announced plans last month to buy the Press-Telegram, he told the 100 editorial employees that they would have to re-interview for their jobs--and not everyone would be kept on.
Singleton said the pay scale at the Long Beach paper was "out of range" for a publication of that size, but it wasn't the case at the Daily News. All told, the Daily News has 895 full- and part-time employees.
Dave McNary, a Daily News reporter, is unit chairman for the Los Angeles Newspaper Guild, which represents 125 Daily News editorial employees.
"We're by and large relieved," McNary said. Singleton "promised that we would retain our jobs at the same salary. . . . In light of what happened in Long Beach, there was certainly apprehension about" layoffs or pay cuts.
The guild's three-year contract with the Daily News runs until April 1999, McNary said, and includes a 2% yearly raise. "This is not a particularly great contract," he said.
J. Kendrick Noble Jr., media analyst with Noble Consultants in Corpus Christi, Texas, noted that Singleton "goes into many operations that others only want to sell" and "has been tough and cut rather drastically at many papers he's purchased. He's not someone, I don't think, that most professionals in the business would care to work for. But he does manage, for the most part, to be successful."
Singleton is an executive who pays attention to small details. And he is proud of having begun a format change more than two years ago at his papers, he said, which narrows the page width of his papers and "is very reader friendly." The narrower pages, he noted, also save about 9% of his newsprint costs.
The Daily News already has this new format, Singleton said, and he plans to convert the Long Beach paper to a smaller size.
Bryce Nelson, a USC journalism professor, said: "I regret that Dean Singleton has bought the Daily News. I would much rather a chain with much more of a reputation for journalism excellence take over the Daily News."
Singleton "has yet to acquire a reputation in enhancing editorial product," Nelson said. "I think he feels he can effect some economies of scale owning all these papers in the L.A. area. Now he owns five. Probably he'll look for more."
This latest deal would give MediaNews 141 newspapers in 11 states, with more than 1.5 million in daily circulation. That, Singleton said, would make MediaNews the eighth-biggest daily newspaper concern in the U.S. in circulation, and place it as the third-largest privately owned newspaper chain, after Newhouse and Hearst. One analyst said Singleton's company would now top $800 million a year in revenue.
Lee Dirks, the broker who handled the sale for the Cooke family, said several companies bid for the paper. A representative for Times Mirror Co., owner of the Los Angeles Times, would not comment on whether it had made an offer to buy the Daily News.
Donald F. Wright, president and CEO of The Times, said, "The Los Angeles Times cares about the continuation of all members of the family of newspapers here in Southern California, and the purchase of the Daily News by the MediaNews Group should remove a cloud that has hung over one of those members for too long."
Singleton said the Daily News' current editor, David Butler, would stay in his post. As for Publisher Larry Beasley, "the plan now is for him to stay," Singleton said. Two months ago, Beasley told The Times that he was interested in buying the Daily News.
Times staff writers Nancy Rivera Brooks and Jill Leovy contributed to this report.