Magazine article Editor & Publisher

Saved! Oakland Tribune Survives Crises as Gannett Co., Freedom Forum Come through for Financially Troubled Paper

Magazine article Editor & Publisher

Saved! Oakland Tribune Survives Crises as Gannett Co., Freedom Forum Come through for Financially Troubled Paper

Article excerpt


Oakland Tribune survives crises as Gannett Co., Freedom Forum come through for financially troubled paper

Only a few hours before the debtridden Oakland Tribune was slated to die, publisher Robert C. Maynard announced he had reached an agreement with Gannett Co. Inc. allowing the paper "to become healthy and grow."

As staff members cheered, Maynard told a packed press conference Aug. 14, "The Oakland Tribune is here to stay and it will remain owned and operated by the Maynard family."

The announcement saved 600 jobs and kept alive the nation's only metro daily owned and operated by an African-American family. The staff reacted with elation and relief. Staffers popped champagne bottles.

The deal with Gannett, Maynard said, was finally put together at 5:20 a.m. Pacific Standard Time that day.

At his side was Allen H. Neuharth, chairman for the not-for-profit Freedom Forum, who said the forum will make an immediate advance of several hundred thousand dollars to meet the Tribune's current operating needs and will settle with the paper's other creditors, as well as Gannett.

Added Neuharth: "If these negotiations can be completed in the next 30 to 60 days, we are prepared then to invest several million dollars in operating capital so this major newspaper can survive and thrive."

According to Maynard and former Gannett Co. president Neuharth, Gannett agreed to settle a $32 million note for approximately 25 [cents] on the dollar. The arrangement, they said, gives Gannett $5.5 million in preferred stock in the Tribune and a $2.5 million interest-free note with payment guaranteed by Freedom Forum after three years.

Freedom Forum, with assets of $670 million, was previously called Gannett Foundation. It describes itself as a "financially independent, international organization dedicated to free press, free speech, and free spirit for all people."

"That certainly applies to the Tribune," Neuharth said. "We believe in the Maynards. We believe in Oakland."

Maynard's triumphant announcement came after Aug. 13 was consumed by almost constant long-distance phone negotiations between him and John Curley, president, CEO and chairman of Gannett Co.

Maynard, who, according to a Tribune spokeswoman, conducted the talks from his home, announced that the Aug. 14 closure of the paper had been extended by 24 hours. Although he gave no reason for the reprieve, Tribune employees generally were cheered by the news, though some expressed doubt that Maynard could save the paper.

The dramatic series of events began with an Aug. 8 Tribune press release in which Maynard was quoted as saying he had obtained "much needed capital" to save his ailing newspaper "only to have the deal fall apart over the issue of the Tribune's debt to Gannett, the Arlington, Va., multibillion dollar media conglomerate."

In an unusually caustic statement, Maynard charged Gannett with "killing the Oakland Tribune for no reason we can understand."

The Tribune publisher said negotiations with Gannett had gone on for three months, during which his suggestions for resolving the paper's financial bind had been rebuffed and Gannett "came up with no solutions of its own."

Maynard disclosed he had a secret financial backer who was ready to pay Gannett $2. …

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