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

Tag: Platinum Equity

Chest-hair battle rages on

Boston Herald media reporter Jessica Heslam says Platinum Equity chairman Tom Gores does too have chest hair, and that the print version of the photo she and Boston University’s Tom Fiedler saw in the Boston Globe recently makes that clear. She writes:

Kennedy … has posted what appears to be the Internet version of the Gores photo on his blog. But if you still read a newspaper the good-old-fashioned way, like Boston University journalism honcho Tom Fiedler and I do, you’ll see that his black chest hair is very prominent.

I will have to take Heslam’s word for it. She’s right in saying I did not see the print version of the Globe. A quick survey of Google Images this morning does not settle the issue. In any case, Gores will not be the next publisher of the Boston Globe, so this hairy issue will have to remain unresolved.

Surveying the Globe-al manscape

Tom Gores

Tom Gores

A grateful Media Nation extends its thanks this morning to Tom Fielder, dean of Boston University’s College of Communication, for giving me an excuse to run this photo of Platinum Equity chairman Tom Gores one more time.

Fiedler cites the photo in explaining why Gores would have been all wrong for Boston if he had succeeded in purchasing the Boston Globe. Jessica Heslam and Christine McConville of the Boston Herald write:

Fiedler said if there was one story that signaled the sale wasn’t moving ahead, it was the Oct. 7 Globe piece on Platinum founder Tom Gores that included a photo of him “with his chest open, chest hair just puffing out.”

“This said to me, number one, the Globe editor who laid out this page doesn’t like this guy, and number two, this guy doesn’t understand Boston,” he said.

“Chest hair just puffing out”? Really? As I noted on Oct. 7, the day the Globe ran the photo, Gores was “[w]earing a flamboyantly pinstriped black suit jacket over a black shirt strategically unbuttoned to show off his smooth chest.” And I’ve had some serious and substantive discussions with fellow media analysts as to whether Gores may have partaken in some manscaping to achieve his smooth look.

It’s likely that Fiedler was too horrified to look closely.

In other Globe-related news, we learn in the Herald story that ballooning pension-liability costs were a major reason that the New York Times Co. ultimately failed in its attempt to sell the Globe either to Platinum or to a group led by former Globe executive Stephen Taylor. That was a story the Herald broke a week ago, so good on them.

In the Globe, Beth Healy and Robert Weisman report that Globe publisher Steve Ainsley would not rule out further cuts when he and Times Co. president Janet Robinson met with employees yesterday.

Over at Beat the Press, Ralph Ranalli quotes Globe staff member Scott Allen’s downbeat take on the meeting: “I think people probably came away from that meeting feeling like well, we know who our owner is, but we don’t see any improvement in our working conditions for some time to come.”

Times Co., Globe renew their vows

I ducked into a Starbucks in downtown New Haven so I could write this. So, for now, just a few preliminary thoughts about the New York Times Co.’s announcement that it has decided against selling the Boston Globe.

Like most observers, I thought the happy talk last month from Times Co. chairman Arthur Sulzberger Jr. and president Janet Robinson was aimed mainly at driving up the price. So even though I had been hearing since last week that things were not going well with the two interested buyers (Platinum Equity and a group led by former Globe executive Stephen Taylor), it still struck me as plausible that the Times Co. would sell — at any price. In hindsight, it’s now clear there was a price below which Sulzberger and company were not willing to go.

I do think the Times Co. damaged its credibility in Boston this year by being so uncommunicative about its battle with the Globe’s unions (especially the Boston Newspaper Guild) and about the would-be sale. The company’s got some work to do on the community-relations front.

But there were certainly worse possible outcomes than this. Platinum Equity, by all accounts, would have relentlessly focused on the bottom line. I was rooting for a Taylor comeback, but if that group was as under-capitalized as I was hearing, then you can be sure that more cuts would have been the first order of business.

Besides, people who buy newspapers tend to want to bring in their own editor. I think Marty Baron has done a terrific job under incredibly difficult circumstances this year, and if this means he stays, then that’s a good thing.

Overall, today’s announcement is not bad news. Which is not quite the same as good news, but close enough.

More from the Times, the Globe, the Herald and Beat the Press.

And then there was one?

Venture capitalist John Ellis, a former Boston Globe columnist who’s been nosing around the Globe situation for months, posted an intriguing tidbit [update: but apparently wrong; see below] on Twitter a little while ago:

there’s a rumor about that Platinum Equity declined to make a “final” bid on the Boston Globe. I wonder if its true.

If Platinum is out of the picture, that would presumably leave the group put together by former Globe executive Stephen Taylor as the only remaining interested buyer. But do Taylor and company have enough capital to get the New York Times Co. to say “yes”?

I also wonder if this might pave the way for a comeback by Boston businessman Jack Connors, whose proposal to take the Globe non-profit was left by the side of the road a few months ago.

Wednesday morning update: Well, so much for that rumor. The Globe’s Beth Healey reports that both groups submitted bids for the Globe, and that a third group submitted a bid for the Worcester Telegram & Gazette.

Deadline day for the Boston Globe sale

Tomorrow is the day that the New York Times Co. has set to accept final offers to sell the Boston Globe. And Media Nation is picking up some well-informed buzz that things are not going well with either of the two prospective buyers — a group led by former Globe executive Stephen Taylor or Platinum Equity, owner of the San Diego Union-Tribune.

Like any reader of the Globe, I have a rooting interest in this. I’d like to see the Taylors make a comeback. But even if they can pull this off, you have to wonder if they’ll be so under-capitalized that the cutting will resume almost immediately.

Show us the money

Will the Taylor group really be able to pull off a deal to buy back the Boston Globe from the New York Times Co.? Today’s Globe piece on Stephen Taylor’s quest to acquire the paper his family sold in 1993 reports that he’s having some trouble scaring up enough money. Beth Healy writes:

Some wealthy Bostonians spurned Taylor’s early overtures, wary of investing in what they consider a dying industry, according to people involved in the bid. With final offers due tomorrow, Taylor is still scurrying to raise money. He has to convince investors he has what it takes to make it in a radically shifting newspaper landscape, despite having been out of the business for nearly a decade.

That fits with information I reported two weeks ago, when I wrote that the Taylor group was still trying to line up investors.

Meanwhile, the Boston Herald’s Jessica Heslam reports that the price of purchasing the Globe and the Worcester Telegram & Gazette may have risen substantially. Both Taylor and Platinum Equity, the only other serious bidder, have reportedly offered to pay $35 million and to assume $59 million in pension liabilities. Now, though, Heslam quotes anonymous “insiders” who say that the esimate of pension liabilities has nearly doubled, to $115 million.

Hard to tell what’s going on here. Heslam quotes a Times Co. spokeswoman who says something that sounds vaguely like a denial, but not really. So, for the moment, let’s proceed under the assumption that Heslam’s sources are right. Will this kill the deal? Especially with the under-capitalized Taylor bid?

It’s possible that the Times Co. will be forced to eat some of that $115 million, like Theo Epstein getting rid of another overpaid, under-performing shortstop. Even though the Globe carefully notes that it’s “conceivable the Times Co. won’t sell the paper,” Poynter Institute media analyst Rick Edmonds recently noted that the Times Co. would lose substantial tax advantages if it doesn’t sell by the end of 2009.

It will be fascinating to see what gets announced tomorrow. That is, if there’s an announcement.

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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