Thursday, August 6, 2009

Austin American-Statesman Off the Market

Not For Sale

Cox Enterprises and the Austin American-Statesman announced today (Thursday, August 6, 2009) that the Austin newspaper is no longer for sale. The announcement comes on a day that a new Rassmussen nationwide survey says newspapers are “on their own.”

“Just 25% of American adults favor the creation of a White House commission to help save journalism jobs and find ways for struggling news organizations to survive,” a Rassmussen newsletter says. Such a commission was proposed last week by former CBS anchor/reporter Dan Rather.

So, Cox says, fine, we’ll charge “Onward Thru the Fog”, borrowing the phrase coined in the last century by Austin’s unique shop Oat Willie’s.
For a business that operates on facts not rumor, rumors had been flying about the Statesman’s headquarters all day yesterday day. It was in the air. All knew that something was afoot. Today’s announcement came as a big relief.

“We were really scared of Platinum Equity,” on staff member says. And then there was that trio of buyers that had teamed up and they were pretty scary too. As of last night, gossip was running rampant that we had been sold to those three buyers. But then we got an email announcing a meeting would be held by the publisher.”

Michael Vivio, American-Statesman publisher, and a representative from Cox Enterprises called the staff into the lobby to make the announcement that the paper was being taken off the market. Vivio said he would get straight to the “punch line.” With the announcement the crowd erupted into prolonged cheers and applause. You can sense the room exhale.

“People started yelling and cheering and clapping,” one source said. Another source tells me, “There is great joy and relief in the newsroom. It's been a very trying year with great uncertainty and tension.” “I kind of thought this is the way it would go,” Vivio said. Video of the announcement is on The cheers were so loud that it distorted the audio on the recording for a few seconds. If you look for the video (It’s under “Multimedia”.), look at the faces. You might even pause the recording for a moment and go from face to face.

One tends to forget that many news media stories or posts are really about the people who have chosen this profession. They invest years in what is sometimes belittled by the public. I have always said that people are all called to a job or profession, often termed by their gifts, their talents. So, the newspaper is a plastic bag that falls in your driveway is not the whole story. It is the reporters and photographers bylines past, present, and hopefully future that makes journalism a higher calling. It is in our constitution. The sobering irony is found under today’s announcement in the comments section where readers/users/consumers of the newspaper (They wouldn’t be posting comments if they were not.) have all manner of snide and even crude things to say about Austin’s only surviving daily newspapers.

The news traveled fast through Facebook and texts to others outside of the newspaper industry.

"It's really good news--for the newsroom and for the community," said Elizabeth Christian, public relations executive and a former newspaper reporter and owner herself. “Can you imagine NOT reading a newspaper?” she said. “I read both the Statesman and the NY Times every single day and feel naked if I have to run to an early meeting without getting through the papers. I also notice that people who rely on on-line news sources, even the papers' web sites, miss many, many stories. They just don't seem as educated or up on the news."

After Cox announced that it was putting the American-Statesman up for sale, I began to wonder if was really going to happen as the weeks grew into months. As I noted in previous posts, the newspaper is a successful, big business—the largest print shop in Austin, located on a prime piece of real estate. Its audience growth continues .

“’Cox Enterprises said from the beginning that it would not preside over a fire sale,’ Statesman publisher Michael Vivio said Thursday. ‘This is a profitable company, and it just did not make sense to sell it for the prices offered.’” (AA-S “Breaking News Alert).

OK. Now that the Statesman is not for sale, what’s next? It is a new source of some anxiety for staff members. “I admit to being skeptical about the future. We all are. But we're all very happy to still be with (as I've heard it phrased many time today) ‘the devil we know’."

© Jim McNabb, 2009

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Good story by Jim, but I'm stunned by the syrupy Elizabeth Christian quote. Is she doing PR work for the Statesman now? And is she really suggesting that people who don't read the print edition of a newspaper are less educated?