News, notes, and observations from the James River Valley in northern South Dakota with special attention to reviewing the performance of the media--old and new. E-Mail to

Wednesday, December 27, 2006

Star Tribune heads for dust-biting

The Star Tribune is being sold to a New York investment firm, Avista Capital Partners. The paper was purchased in 1998 by McClatchy for $1.2 billion. It was sold by McClatchy to Avista for $530 million.

The sale is one which indicates what is happening to newspapers and the news business in general. While the Start Tribune has continued to be profitable, it has also faced the problems of declining revenues and declining subscriptions that other major newspapers face. According to stories from the Star Tribune and the web sites of parties to the transaction, the impact of the Internet on classified ad sales is the most significant part of declining performance. Note that "performance" is totally defined by the ability to make money. Performance in terms of getting the news and getting it right is not mentioned.

The sale leaves the Twin Cities under a haze about what kind of print media will serve the market. Early this year, the Pioneer Press was purchased by McClatchy when it bought the Knight Ridder chain, which also owned the Aberdeen American News. But McClatchy immediately divested itself of a number of the Knight Ridder papers. The St. Paul Pioneer Press was sold to Denver-based MediaNews Group and the Aberdeen paper was sold to Schurz Communications in South Bend, Indiana. (Why does the American News web site have a link to the McClatchy organization?)

Many prominent newspapers have either been sold or are up for sale. While competition from cable news and the Internet is often cited as the moving factor in changing the face of print journalism, the business is experiencing the same process of acquisitions, mergers, and sell-offs that are a part of the corporate business culture. When businesses are acquired, merged, or absorbed into other businesses, many do not survive, and seldom are improvements made to the products or services they once provided.

As the Star Tribune and the Pioneer Press set the standards of journalistic enterprise of the northern plains--despite the constant snarks of bloggers who go into petulant fits when newspapers do not print the dogma they worship--the rapid shifting of ownership to organizations devoted to corporate bottom lines rather than journalistic integrity signals a potential shift from fact-based journalism to consumer-driven content for the region.

The paper to watch is the Pioneer Press. MediaNews Group is largely in the news business and includes the Denver Post among its holdings.

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Aberdeen, South Dakota, United States