When the Hearst Corp threatened, on Feb. 24, to shutter the San Francisco Chronicle, the San Jose Mercury News reported the announcement with hook-line-and-sinker-swallowing gullibility in a story headlined: “S.F. Chronicle may cease operations.” Now, it seems, the Merc‘s owner is prepared to come to the rescue.
In its original story, the Merc’s reporter, George Avalos, went to his own boss for a quote and came back empty-handed: “William Dean Singleton, chief executive officer of Denver-based MediaNews Group, which owns this paper and most of the newspapers in the Bay Area, declined to comment Tuesday about the Chronicle situation.”
Avalos didn’t elaborate about why Singleton’s name appeared in his story. He did not, for instance, mention that MediaNews and Hearst have been playing footsie for years, hoping to hook up. Or that they came within inches of a partial merger in 2003, but were stymied by an anti-trust lawsuit. Or that Hearst owns 20 percent of MediaNews operation outside California.
But Tuesday’s Merc dropped the other shoe, asked this question in a headline: “To keep San Francisco Chronicle publishing, should it team up with Mercury News’ owner?”
That article, by the savvy Merc staffer Pete Carey, reported on a letter from House Speaker Nancy Pelosi to the US Department of Justice antitrust division, which urged the feds to overlook the obvious monopoly issue. Carey pointed out in the piece that Pelosi’s suggestion would bring about “a possibility that once seemed unthinkable: consolidation of the Bay Area’s daily newspapers.”
Singleton (of course) welcomed Pelosi’s action: “I think what Speaker Pelosi is saying is it’s time for the Justice Department to join the 21st century and realize that newspapers are one small piece of the competitive landscape,” he said.
The San Jose / Silicon Valley Business Journal responded with a story Thursday, headlined “MediaNews chief says SF Chronicle deal ‘might be a smart thing.’ (Duh!)”
Okay—I added the “Duh.” But check out the lead: “The potential of lifting antitrust barriers to owning all the major daily papers in the Bay Area apparently sounds like a good idea to MediaNews Group Inc. CEO Dean Singleton.” Do you detect a touch of sarcasm?
The un-bylined BizJournal story continued with another quote from Singleton: “If you look at the economics of the Bay Area News Group, it would seem to be a smart thing to do, to do some more consolidation.”
Yes. Monopoly is a good thing—if one is the monopolist.