Saturday, December 16, 2006

As Geffen Makes An Offer, And Baquet Continues To Hope To Return, FitzSimons Dithers

Just what is going on with the Los Angeles Times and a possible sale of the newspaper to more ambitious local interests?

It seems that Dennis FitzSimons, the Tribune CEO and prime business screw up, is dithering, although it's also possible that Chandler family interests aren't too welcoming of an all-cash $2 billion offer for the paper by entertainment mogul David Mogul. The Chandlers would want to structure any deal in a way that would cost them a minimum of taxes. The Geffen offer may not fit that desire.

Perhaps, Geffen should negotiate directly with Thomas Unterman, the Chandler family financial advisor, try to structure a deal with him and then get him to put pressure on FitzSimons to consummate the deal. Perhaps the Chandlers could maintain an interest in a Geffen proprietorship.

L.A. Times media correspondent Jim Rainey had two articles in the paper Thursday pertaining to the future of the Times. It is unusual for a paper to devote so much space to its own prospective purchase, but Rainey's articles continue to appear, and I like some better than others.

The new publisher sent out by Chicago, David Hiller, fired editor Dean Baquet in November, but now he allows an article to appear that reports Baquet maintains hopes of making a comeback. Is it conceivable that Hiller, now that he has been here awhile, has realized just how popular Baquet was in the community, and may harbor some thought himself of bringing him back.

This is probably unlikely. Under what terms could the two men work together? It is more likely, as Baquet apparently feels, that a new owner would bring Baquet back as editor.

Baquet is not exactly behaving as a dismissed editor. He continues to appear at social events with Times personnel, and he has reportedly been in contact with Eli Broad, another prospective Times buyer. He has remained in Los Angeles, does respond to messages, and he is holding on for a possible purchase. We don't know what kind of severance arrangement Baquet has with the Times. It could bge he can afford to wait a few months to see what happens.

But is a purchase likely? The Tribune Co. neither accepted nor rejected the Geffen offer and is said to be waiting to see about offers for the whole company. So far, they have reportedly been disappointing. Of course, it is possible a deal could be structured like the McClatchy purchase of newspapers, where it promptly turned over some of the papers it purchased. But it is also possible, as I wrote earlier in the week that FitzSimons wants to hold on.

So far, at least, there have been no major new layoffs at the Times, despite the fact that Baquet was reportedly fired for publicly resisting such layoffs. This may indicate that both FitzSimons and Hiller are waiting for a deal. I hope so.

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