Hey, Belo — sell to the locals; a bridge too far; RIP, Al and Bob
As the A.H. Belo Corporation moves toward selling the august Urinal to the highest bidder, it appears that a local group is still in the hunt to purchase Vo Dilun’s rag of record.
WPRI’s Ted Nesi reported on May 12 that a consortium including Biggest Little businessmen Arnold “Buff” Chace, Barry Fain, John Howell, and Matt Hayes is in the mix to acquire the faltering local media giant. Evidently the group has passed muster and entered a second round of bidding overseen on behalf of BeloJo’s empty suits in Dallas by an Arkansas investment bank, which should assure quality will take a backseat on this ride and the sale will go to whomever brings in the biggest bucks for the Texas trolls. To that end, P&J have heard rumors that the Gannett newspaper chain, which includes USA Today, is also a contender. This news was followed by a comment by a former Gannett reporter that their operation, to put it nicely, sucks.
That is why interest from locals is so intriguing and exciting. P&J have thundered many times in this space about the soul-sucking impact of absentee ownership that has plagued The Other Paper since Steve Hamblett and Co. sold it to BeloJo’s corporate buccaneers in 1997. These are the folks who heartlessly cut jobs with a scimitar, knowing they would never have to meet any of the casualties or their family members face-to-face in the market or at a Little League game. The people laid off were simply costs infringing on profits.
What also brings hope to Casa Diablo is that the members of local group in play are very familiar to P&J. Buff Chace, Managing General Partner at Cornish Associates, is a real estate guy and a concerned citizen who has also come down on the right side of activist issues in the state. Fain is the longtime publisher of East Side Monthly, the type of paper you put out as a public service, not to get rich. Howell is a longtime friend of P&J’s whose Beacon Communications newspapers, the Warwick Beacon and Cranston Herald, are glowing examples of what community papers should be. (He has also been a tremendous advocate for environmental issues, an important topic for a coastal community like Warwick.) Hayes is owner and publisher of East Bay Newspapers chain of weeklies, which are to the towns from Barrington to Tiverton what Howell’s product is to the Warwick/Cranston area. The Hayes family (Phillipe has worked with all of them through the years) has owned the East Bay franchise for three generations, and Matt, along with Howell and Fain, knows what readers want.
Local publishers and editors traditionally see them themselves — in most cases, quite rightly — as the conscience of the communities they serve, and in most cases they bring a considered voice to local debates. These weeklies are the ones that stay around the house for more than a day and they’re often read very thoroughly. Chances are, more readers know whose neighbor’s dog is lost than the name of the vice president.