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MediaNews taking control of Breeze

December 16, 2006|James Rainey | Times Staff Writer

William Dean Singleton expanded his position Friday as the dominant newspaper operator in suburban Los Angeles with the acquisition of the Daily Breeze from Copley Press Inc.

Singleton's MediaNews Group announced it would take control of the Breeze in a two-step transaction that would begin with Hearst Corp. buying the Torrance-based paper for $25 million, before turning it over to MediaNews, the nation's fourth-largest newspaper chain.

Under the arrangement, deep-pocketed Hearst finances the acquisition in exchange for a future equity position in the Denver-based chain.

Daily Breeze Publisher Art Wible announced his retirement Friday and Singleton introduced the newspaper's staff to his replacement, Liz Gaier.

Gaier was once an advertising executive at the Breeze and most recently served as senior vice president of new business development for MediaNews.

Singleton's privately held company has succeeded in a challenging environment by buying newspapers in geographic clusters and combining editorial, advertising and production functions.

It adds the Breeze and three smaller publications -- the Beach Reporter, More San Pedro and the Palos Verdes Peninsula News -- to a Los Angeles-area empire that includes the Daily News in the San Fernando Valley, the Pasadena Star-News and the Long Beach Press-Telegram.

The acquisition of the 65,750-circulation paper brings the total daily circulation for MediaNews papers in the area to 518,000.

Some Breeze employees said they feared the deal could lead to job cuts similar to those hitting much of the industry, including Singleton papers in Northern California. But Singleton said he had no immediate plans for cutting the 284-person staff, and some at the paper were hopeful that the new owner would improve long-term prospects.

"We have always done good work here but struggled on the financial side," said Breeze Editor Phillip Sanfield. "I think that with this new combination ... we will have a newspaper that will be here for the long run."

La Jolla-based Copley owned the Breeze for 78 years but owner David C. Copley plans to sell most of his holdings, including dailies in Ohio and Illinois. The wealthy arts patron will continue to operate the flagship San Diego Union-Tribune.

The Torrance newspaper is expected to relocate after Copley completes the separate sale of the Breeze headquarters on Torrance Boulevard. The 7.1-acre property, just a mile from the beach, has already drawn substantial interest from potential buyers, company officials said.

Hearst will maintain ownership of the Breeze for an unspecified period, as it has in similar partnerships with MediaNews involving papers in Monterey County and St. Paul, Minn.

When MediaNews takes title, Hearst's $300-million investment will be converted into a 30% stake in MediaNews holdings outside the San Francisco Bay Area.

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james.rainey@latimes.com

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