SAN FRANCISCO — MediaNews Group Inc., the owner of The Salt Lake Tribune, the San Jose Mercury News in California, The Denver Post and more than 50 other newspapers, plans to replace William Dean Singleton as its CEO so he can focus on exploring possible combinations with other publishers while his successor tries to make more money on the Internet.
The CEO search announced Tuesday is part of a shake-up that includes the departure of Singleton's top lieutenant, Joseph Lodovic IV, who is retiring as MediaNews' president immediately.
The changes come a year after MediaNews' parent company, Affiliated Media Inc., filed for bankruptcy protection. A reorganization plan approved 10 months ago wiped out most of the company's debt in exchange for relinquishing ownership to dozens of lenders led by Bank of America Corp.
Singleton, who co-founded and became CEO of MediaNews in 1983, emerged from the reorganization with an 11 percent stake in the company and a keen interest in buying other troubled newspapers, which might create new market opportunities for his stable of dailies. He believes newspapers will be available at steeply discounted prices because publishers' revenue has plunged in the past four years amid a deep recession and intensifying competition for advertising dollars from the Internet.
Those challenges drove more than a dozen other publishers into bankruptcy protection during 2008 and 2009, and several of those are now controlled by lenders and distressed debt specialists that aren't expected to remain long-term owners.
Freedom Communications Inc., one of the publishers now controlled by lenders after getting out of bankruptcy protection, said in November that it would mull offers for its newspapers and television stations. Its newspapers include the Orange County Register in southern California, a market where MediaNews already owns several newspapers, including the Daily News in Los Angeles.
Although he hasn't publicly mentioned any potential targets, Singleton has left little doubt that he intends to be a buyer. "Consolidation will be another key component in the new media model," he said in an interview with The Associated Press last year.
Singleton, 59, also is chairman of The Associated Press, whose revenue has declined the past two years after lowering its fees for newspapers and broadcasters.
MediaNews, based in Denver, got into trouble largely because it borrowed heavily to help finance deals before the Internet and the recession combined to devour its advertising revenue, its main moneymaking source.
The company's new chief executive will be expected to be an Internet-savvy leader who can engineer changes that will enable the newspapers to make more money online.
"These measures will strengthen the company's performance in its core markets, and continue the transformation of the business from a print-oriented newspaper company to a locally focused provider of news and information across multiple platforms," the company said in a statement.
Singleton will still be CEO until a replacement is hired, after which he will remain MediaNews' chairman. He will also remain chairman and publisher of The Denver Post and The Salt Lake Tribune.
Gordon Paris, a MediaNews board member, will take over Lodovic's responsibilities until a replacement is found.
The company also is looking for a chief revenue officer, a newly created position. Michael Sileck, another director, will fill that role until the company hires someone on a permanent basis.
MediaNews' board is getting a makeover too, with the addition of three directors to replace departing members: Lodovic; Howell Begle Jr., MediaNews' general counsel; and Jon Huntsman, founder of chemical manufacturer Huntsman Corp.
Two of the new board members have ties to Alden Global Capital, a distressed debt specialist that has been acquiring stakes in newspapers during the downturn. The new directors are venture capitalist Heath Freeman, a managing director for Alden Global; Bruce Schnelwar, another Alden Global managing director who is also the firm's chief financial officer as well as executive vice president and CFO of Smith Management LLC; and Eric Krauss, who was most recently CFO of Action Sports Inc.
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