By Dan Kennedy • The press, politics, technology, culture and other passions

Is the Herald for sale?

Once again, the “For Sale” sign has gone up outside the Boston Herald. Pat Purcell, the owner of Herald Media Inc., tells the Herald’s Greg Gatlin that he must recapitalize his company now that some of his investors are looking to cash in. And he declines to rule out a sale of either the Herald or his 100-plus community newspapers in Eastern Massachusetts.

But how likely is it that Purcell would sell? Over the years, the unknown factor in a long string of Herald-for-sale rumors has always been the extent of the financial pressure under which Purcell labors. Herald Media is a privately held company, and Purcell holds his cards pretty close to the vest, so it’s nearly impossible to know for sure.

Certainly it wasn’t a good sign when he slashed the Herald’s newsroom contingent by 25 percent earlier this year. But given the cutbacks that are now spreading across the entire newspaper business, including at the Boston Globe, those reductions don’t look quite as horrifying as they did at the time. In any case, the new, downsized Herald has proved to be a better paper than I would have thought possible.

Whenever Purcell has rallied the troops, my sources have told me that he never rules out the possibility of a sale, but that he always plays down its likelihood as well. His comments in today’s Herald appear to be along the same lines. Gatlin writes:

GATLIN: Purcell said if someone came forward looking to take a majority interest in the company he would have to consider it.

“Even if that were the case, I don’t think there’s a better operator … than us and the team we’ve assembled here,” he said. “I don’t think there’s going to be any problem with continuing to operate this business.”

The closest Purcell came to selling in recent years appears to have been last winter, when he engaged in what were described to me as serious talks with the Hollinger chain (scroll down) about selling all of his papers for about $250 million. But it didn’t happen, and Purcell may well have been more interested in showing his investors that Herald Media was worth a quarter of a billion dollars than he was in actually collecting the money.

The Boston Globe’s Christopher Rowland reports on Purcell’s latest moves today, too, but doesn’t mention the sale possibility.


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