Hearst takes over management of Advocate, Greenwich Time Staff Reports

Hearst takes over management of Advocate, Greenwich Time Staff Reports
Stamford Advocate - 8/9/2008
Hearst Corp. has taken over management of The Advocate and Greenwich Time and purchased the Connecticut Post and seven weekly newspapers from MediaNews Group Inc., the companies announced Friday.

"I think it's terrific. Hearst is an outstanding newspaper and media company," said John Dunster, publisher of The Advocate and Greenwich Time. "They still think the future of newspapers is bright and demonstrated it by buying the Connecticut Post. I think they (employees) are excited about the opportunity to work for the Hearst Corp."

Dunster said he did not anticipate immediate changes to daily operations of The Advocate and Greenwich Time or the appearances of the newspapers.

MNG Chief Executive Officer Dean Singleton said Friday the sale of the Connecticut properties, which Hearst already owned a 40 percent stake in, was to shore up MNG's balance sheet.

Dunster said Frank Bennack Jr., vice chairman and chief executive officer of Hearst, lives in New Canaan and is familiar with The Advocate and Greenwich Time.

Bennack said newspapers are too important to the country to be allowed to become extinct, as some industry pundits suggest.

"Newspapers play a vital role in American society," he told editors and staff members of the Connecticut newspapers during a meeting Friday. "We're not about to give up on that. Who will watch city hall?"

Hearst bought The Advocate and Greenwich Time in November for $62.4 million. Because the buildings were not part of the deal, both newspapers, along with The Advocate's Norwalk office, were moved earlier this year. MNG had been managing The Advocate and Greenwich Time, along with The News-Times of Danbury and its weekly, the New Milford Spectrum, through a joint operating agreement. Brooks Community Newspapers' six weeklies, the Darien News-Review, Greenwich Citizen, Fairfield Citizen-News, New Canaan News-Review, Norwalk Citizen-News and Westport News, are part of the deal.

Bennack returned to the helm of Hearst after a brief retirement. He has led the privately held company for more than 23 years. He said the Post is joining a strong company that doesn't have much debt. He also said Hearst will continue to be a partner and investor in MNG.

George Irish, president of Hearst Newspapers, said the value of the deal to buy out MNG's interest in the Connecticut newspapers would not be disclosed. Both companies are private.

Hearst's major interests include ownership of 16 daily and 49 weekly newspapers, including the Houston Chronicle, San Francisco Chronicle and Albany Times Union, as well as interest in nearly 200 magazines, including Cosmopolitan and O, The Oprah Magazine, 29 television stations through Hearst-Argyle Television and cable networks such as Lifetime, A&E, History and ESPN.

MNG, the nation's fourth-largest newspaper company, has been struggling with debt accumulated from acquisitions in recent years. One deal was valued by some media sources at $1 billion for MNG to acquire several newspapers in California, including the Oakland Tribune and San Jose Mercury News. Standard & Poor's recently downgraded MNG's rating to CCC.

The combined circulation of Hearst's Connecticut properties is 137,000 daily, 151,000 on Sunday and 53,000 non-daily.

- Connecticut Post Staff Writer Rob Varnon and Advocate/Greenwich Time Business Editor Richard Lee contributed to this story.