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

Stayin’ alive with Platinum Equity

Tom Gores

Tom Gores

One can only imagine the glee that folks at the Boston Globe must have felt when they came across a photo of prospective owner Tom Gores looking like he’s starring in the community-theater remake of “Saturday Night Fever.” The photo leads a long piece on Gores’ tenure at the San Diego Union-Tribune.

Wearing a flamboyantly pinstriped black suit jacket over a black shirt strategically unbuttoned to show off his smooth chest (and don’t miss the black-and-white polka-dot handerchief), Gores comes across as an exceedingly unlikely candidate to stabilize the Globe’s finances while preserving its journalism. The story dwells in some detail on embarrassing facts about Gores’ personal life as well.

I should note that the photo is credited to Gores’ firm, Platinum Equity. So he must be quite proud of it.

Still, you never know. Platinum is one of two groups in the running to purchase the Globe and the Worcester Telegram & Gazette from the New York Times Co. The other, favored by most people I talk with, is headed by former Globe executive Stephen Taylor and former Globe publisher Ben Taylor, prominent members of the family that sold the paper to the Times Co. in 1993.

Platinum Equity has been the subject of fascination since it acquired the Union-Tribune earlier this year. But as the Globe story notes, though the paper’s staff has been slashed to ribbons, the Union-Tribune is now on track to turn a small profit this year. Quality matters; but nothing is possible at a paper that keeps bleeding cash.

The non-profit news site Voices of San Diego, which has been keeping a watchful eye on Platinum, recently ran a piece containing what might be described as cautious praise. The story quotes an anonymous staff member following a meeting with management: “I went into the meeting not super-receptive, given that this is the management team that had laid off more than 100 people the day before. I came out feeling better about the future of the paper than I have in two years.” The story continues:

Two other newsroom workers agreed with that assessment, and all three said they were hopeful and impressed by the new management’s willingness to criticize the old regime. (The staff members requested anonymity for fear of antagonizing the new bosses.)

The positive feelings are remarkable considering how the U-T has been plagued by poor morale and severe financial troubles in recent years. The paper has physically shrunk by about half since 2006, and several rounds of layoffs and buyouts have eliminated about half of all jobs companywide.

To be sure, there is a lot of low-hanging fruit at the Union-Tribune. Employees still paste up pages manually, a labor-intensive practice that is now being eliminated. But for the Union-Tribune to achieve financial stability so quickly, and for management now to be talking about growth, is an impressive achievement given the dire straits in which the newspaper business finds itself.

Still, I’d certainly feel better if the Taylor group prevails. Yes, the Globe has to succeed as a business. But with the Taylors, I’m more confident that managers would seek to define the journalistic mission first, then figure out how to pay for it.

The Globe’s coming back tomorrow with a look at the Taylor group. I expect to see a photo of Steve and Ben dressed in tasteful, non-ostentatious business suits, their jackets off and their sleeves rolled up, serving meals at a homeless shelter before heading in to work.

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  1. Newshound

    Newspaper publishers should dress like Barney Frank. Really!

    And they should be as real as Barney Frank.

  2. O-FISH-L

    How shallow of you Dan, to judge this man based on his attire. Having seen you on Beat the Press and other TV outlets, clearly few of us have your fashion sense, but still, c’mon.

  3. lkcape

    It may be churlish to point this out, Dan, but he is the game and you are on the outside making snarky comments.

    • Dan Kennedy

      Not churlish so much as stupid and irrelevant, Ikcape. Per usual. I comment on the media. Get it?

  4. LFNeilson

    At least he’s not dressed like he’s been on a life raft, which may be a good omen.
    I have agree with Fish on this one. Judge him on his work. Does the paper survive, and is it still a good newspaper?

  5. lkcape

    Yep Dan. An your comments are typically inappropriate… even for someone who comments on the media.

    Childish is the way I would characterize your remarks.

  6. mike_b1

    … Tom Gores looking like he’s starring in the community-theater remake of “Saturday Night Fever.”

    I would have said “A Night at the Roxy.”

  7. TomW

    The picture the Globe used of Gores must be his version of a more-somber East-coast look. On Platinum’s website, he’s shown in an off-white jacket, lavender! shirt (also unbuttoned and with matching handkerchief) and blue jeans. Snazzy!

  8. MarkB

    Oh Muffy… he’s not “one of us.”

  9. JK

    There’s so often the wrong spin on these stories. 750-odd people remaining at the San Diego paper? They’re doing paste-up? Talk about waste. I once worked at a seven-day daily with less than 10 editorial employees in total. Was the paper as rich in content and quality as the Globe? Hardly. But I cannot imagine how much better it could have been with 30 editorial workers – working hard – let alone hundreds and hundreds.

    People disparage the Globe as the Velvet Coffin. Having no first-hand knowledge of this, I’d still have to agree based on outside evidence alone. Half the paper is wire, and practically half is done by correspondents. What exactly are all these full-timers doing?

    Perfectly open to being proven wrong here, but nobody can seem to tell me this.

    Please: No more spin about how staff cuts have “decimated” papers. How about if everyone puts in a full day’s work?

    • Dan Kennedy

      JK: It’s a given in any organization that 20 percent of the people will do 80 percent of the work. You are not the first person to suggest that there’s still waste to be cut at the Globe. I’m not going to express an opinion about that. But I would say that you can’t expect the next owner (or the current owner) to pull off a management miracle that has eluded large organizations since the beginning of time.

  10. JK

    Hi Dan,

    Your 80-20 rule is far from “a given.” It holds true only when a company gets fat and overstaffed. Companies that run lean and trim dead wood are different. I know this first-hand.

    I may not be the first person to express these views, but I definitely feel like I’m in the vast minority.

    Also: Pull off a “management miracle?” Um, OK. How about if the Globe simply said all its reporters had to file daily items unless they are working on (a documented, bonafide) longer-term enterprise story.

    Dan, I think you’re being too easy on the Globe and other “large organizations” existing since the beginning of time.

    I read into your comments that basically, get over it JK, newspapers like all large companies are sleepy and shot through with waste. It’s just the way of the world.

    Dan, newspapers’ judgment day has arrived. I think it’s time for the people who work at these big cushy dailies to wake up. There must be plenty of well-qualified journalists working for far less money and exposure who’d be glad to step up.

    • Dan Kennedy

      There must be plenty of well-qualified journalists working for far less money and exposure who’d be glad to step up.

      And imagine what those Walmart savings would be like if we could just get rid of the minimum wage.

      JK, you do make some excellent points, though I have to stand up for decent wages as being a good thing, both for the people who get them and for society in general.

      Regardless of who the next owner of the Globe turns out to be, the staff will continue to shrink — probably by quite a lot. Like you, I hope the right people are kept.

  11. JK

    Hi Dan,

    I certainly never meant to imply that the wages paid to Globe workers are too lavish. Far from it, they are more than reasonable and I wish they were more the rule than the exception.

    But it’s ironic that the more some people get paid, the less they have to do.

    The Boston Globe and other papers can survive with fewer people making the same money but working harder, that’s my position.

    And by working harder, I don’t even mean overly hard. Just a solid 40-hour week.

  12. Jerry

    One very big worry should the Taylors come back is whether they can recognize how different the newspaper business has become since they last were in touch. It will be hard to shake old perceptions and attitudes. They’ve got to be able to turn at least a slight profit to make it all work.

  13. Young T

    I think before anyone gets excited about the prospect of the Globe being owned by Platinum Equity, they should look at how PE has treated a few of the software companies in its portfolio. A little cursory research should pick up a few firms whose employees might have some things to say about being part of the Platinum Equity family.

  14. Rick in Duxbury

    I’m picturing a certain ink-stained wretch from Danvers in that suit on BTP. Sort of “Nathan Detroit meets Larry Flynt”. C’mon, somebody must have Photoshop!

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