Friday, August 14, 2015

It's Happening at Ohio's Greatest

The $47 million might have changed hands over a financial quarter ago, but it doesn't feel real until the staffing changes. We learned this week through Columbus Business First that the ball has gotten rolling on that, so it seems fair enough to say the formerly locally owned Columbus Dispatch is now officially part of the black box conglomerate known as New Media Investment Group Inc. (NYSE:NEWM).

Having been on both sides of mergers and buyouts in the past, I realize that details at this stage of the process can be hard to pin down. One staffer may say they are getting three day's severance for every year worked, another might get promoted and yet another will get completely screwed. Even the amount New Media wants to trim ($10 million dollars) is likely wrong at this point just out of the simple fact they don't know enough about the business (think of it like MLS expansion fees, round numbers... usually false).

Like the changes in staff, the actual investment group buying the company is hard to pin down. They, themselves, are multiple groups (some of which have gone bankrupt) coming together to try and make a bit of money by investing in an industry currently at a low point. "News" is obviously something valuable but "Newspapers" are something else entirely. Jeff Bezos recent $250 million dollar purchase of the Washington Post points to something worth saving in traditional news outlets.

Columbus Business First reported that the Dispatch made $11.1 million in adjusted operation profit last year and owned property, valued around $18 million. What this means is that New Media got a pretty good deal. Trim 10 off a company already pulling in positive revenue and own some real estate to move around - looks great on the surface for them, but a lot of unknowns in there.


For as long as I've been in Columbus the coverage of the local MLS team has been very good. In recent years, there has been one writer assigned to the local beat. What readers of the paper get is pre and post game columns, a notebook and usually a piece on current form or player piece during the week (along with a regular team blog). On top of that there is a op-ed or two a month during the season. It's great value for fans here in town but what most people miss on is that it's also for the larger MLS community. There are only 20 teams and the number of beat guys or local papers even bothering with it numbers just about as much.

In the world of online coverage, people like to talk about independent coverage. Even here at Helltown we pride ourselves as being completely free of MLS or local team influence but the kings of independent coverage over the years decades last century has been newspapers.

What we've seen over the past 10-15 years is the tide turning on independent coverage of all news topics, not just sports. Want good pub? Hire someone to punch out content. Want your sports team to be covered only in the way you like? Lock out independent voices and hire your own content creators.

It's a battle that has been waged for many, many years now, but it's only recently that the pendulum has swung towards the sports franchises to a great degree. MLS teams are prime candidate because the press coverage of it is already paper thin. Modern coverage of sports has allowed the league to get away with just about anything they want, without repercussion. Heck, it likely just costs a twitter account or two to negate challenging independent coverage, these days.

Ever since the purchase of the Post and the Dispatch recently I've thought about DC United and Crew SC coverage and what will happen to it. I've come to a few likely outcomes: (1) New Media appears to greatly value centralized distribution of content, they will likely use whatever is out there already from the league site (2) Reduce coverage, or (3) keep it the same.

Of course, the fourth option many of would like to see it (4) increase it! And maybe it will increase! It just won't be from the perspective of Columbus.

The hope is that guys like recently promoted new Editor Alan Miller and Ray Paprocki, who has been hired as Publisher and General Manager, do what they can to retain the voice of the paper and not just the voices of the new ownership.


These type of life changing events are tough. My heart goes out to Dispatch employees over the next couple months. I've reached out to a couple former and current Dispatch employees recently to ask about these changes. If you, or someone you know, have anything you want to talk about and work for the Columbus Dispatch, let me know - email: or find me on Twitter @HelltownBeer

No comments: