E.W. Scripps CEO Rich Boehne on his company's commitment to newspapers

Categories: Media

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As is the case with all articles, plenty of interesting stuff gathered for Westword's December 11 feature about the dire circumstances facing the Rocky Mountain News and sidebars focusing on Rocky writers who the Denver Post should try to hire and the joint-operating agreement between the Rocky and the Post was left on the cutting-room floor. Examples include the Rocky's John Temple disputing MediaNews Group leader and Denver Post publisher Dean Singleton's memory of a meeting that preceded the tabloid's for-sale announcement by a couple of weeks, and Singleton's updated comments about overseas outsourcing of newspaper jobs. Here, Rich Boehne, CEO for E.W. Scripps, the Rocky's Cincinnati-based owner, emphasizes that his company really wants to stay in the newspaper business despite its decision to peddle the Rocky, not to mention the closure of two longtime properties, the Cincinnati Post and the Albuquerque Tribune, during the past year.

"To go back, we went to the Scripps board and family about two years ago," Boehne recalls. "We said to the board, 'We think local media is going to go through a period of very dramatic change. We like local media and we believe it will be a good business in the future, but the next few years, there's going to be a lot of convulsion. So we'd like to take the newspapers and TV stations into a separate company, where we can focus on them.'"

The result of Boehne's pitch was a split in Scripps' corporate holdings, with the firm's profitable cable TV brands, including HGTV and The Food Network, grouped under the new Scripps Networks Interactive banner, and the more troubled local newspaper and TV properties remaining part of E.W. Scripps. Boehne believes that subsequent developments demonstrate the wisdom of this move.

"Most of the things you see happening in the newspaper business are exactly what we thought would happen," he allows. "The only difference is the very nasty economic crisis, which makes things a lot worse. But the transition to the Internet -- we saw that coming, and we really think there'll be an opportunity in the future in local media once we get through this very difficult transition. And an awful lot of that will result from not just an embracing of the Internet, but an understanding that it will be an equal platform to print or broadcast TV -- and it might even be the dominant platform in a local market.

"It's really important to think of things the way we do," he continues. "We put the TV stations and the newspapers in the same company for a very specific reason. We think they're businesses whose paths are going to cross. More and more of newspapers' audience emerges on the web, and more and more of TV stations' audience is on the web, too. There won't be the traditional boundaries between the two businesses. They'll compete for the same audience. So we believe there's an opportunity for one or two players in a market to become much stronger. It could be a newspaper or it could be a TV station. We're very platform agnostic. If you own a newspaper in Knoxville or in Naples, Florida, or if you own TV stations in West Palm Beach or Cincinnati or Detroit, we see each of those platforms as a way to build on the future of local media. Wherever we have a good, strong local media business, we think we have something to build on. So if we've got a good newspaper market, we're not looking to get out."

Does that mean Scripps no longer considers Denver to be "a good newspaper market"? Boehne says, "I got that question in the newsroom" at the Rocky, where he helped break the news about the sale on December 4. "Someone asked, 'Why not stay in Denver?' And I said, 'Denver's unprofitable, and our other newspaper markets are not unprofitable. They all make money.'"

Most of these communities are smaller than Denver, too. Scripps still owns some papers in sizable metro areas, including the Memphis Commercial Appeal. But the majority of its other dailies are rooted in places like Henderson, Kentucky (The Gleaner) and Bremerton, Washington (The Kitsap Sun). That's hardly a coincidence, Boehne confirms.

"No question that large metro markets are much more challenged than mid-size markets," he says. "There's more competition, so you might have a lower penetration. But you've got to cover a lot more geography. You've got to cover it with a physical product that you print and you bag and you deliver every single day." -- Michael Roberts

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