A Light Dims in San Antonio

Article excerpt

The San Antonio Light may soon join the list of the dead--the result of a new twist in the old game of buying and selling newspapers.

The Hearst Co., which owns the Light, the second paper in a two-newspaper market, purchased the San Antonio Express-News for $185 million in October. If it can't sell the Light by mid-December, Hearst plans to close it.

"As far as I know, there has never been anything like this," says Ken Noble, an industry consultant and long-time newspaper analyst. "It isn't odd to see companies swapping newspapers, but that isn't exactly what this is."

The San Antonio deal is apparently the first time the parent of a failing newspaper has purchased a healthier rival. (Hearst officials say the Light has lost more than $60 million since 1987.) The Express-News has reportedly made money for its owner, Rupert Murdoch, every year since he bought it from Harte-Hanks two decades ago as his first U.S. newspaper acquisition.

Not surprisingly, the deal has embittered more than one Light employee. "My question is why didn't they buy the Express-News and then close it down and let us be the surviving newspaper?" asks Leandra Garza, a 13-year employee with the paper. Others wondered why Express-News jobs are guaranteed, while Light employees may be left in the cold.

There have been similar transactions in the past few months in Honolulu and Pittsburgh, but each involved newspapers competing under joint operating agreements. The Light (149,000 daily circulation and 221,000 on Sunday) and the Express-News (189,000 daily, 285,000 Sunday) have been competitors for more than 60 years.

The Light switched to morning publication about 10 years ago in an effort to better compete with the morning Express-News. The two papers were in a dead heat until 1987, when the Light failed to turn a profit for the first time. It hasn't made money since.

"I think it was somewhat of a surprise that News Corp. …