Tuesday update: In its first day as a standalone newspaper company. Belo’s stock lost 12.2 percent of its value. Ouch.
In October, when Belo announced that it was splitting itself into separate newspaper and television companies, a respected analyst wrote: "A structural move like this aims to please Wall Street."
Which reminds us who the company runs the newspaper for, and it isn’t readers.
Today marks the debut of the new companies: A.H. Belo, which will publish four dailies, including Dallas’ Only Daily Newspaper; and Belo, with 20 TV stations (including Channel 8) and the debt from the old company. What changes can we expect to see?
I wrote about this earlier, highlighting potential cuts. I think we’re going to see those — or something like them — based on what new A.H. Belo boss Robert Decherd told an investor meeting in January: "A. H. Belo will aggressively control operating expenses and will adjust expense profiles to actual revenue experience as appropriate."
That sounds like layoffs, less syndicated features, and more wire stories to me. Interestingly, in the October piece mentioned above, News editor Bob Mong is quoted as saying that the paper will invest in "centers of excellence" like education, while letting other elements of the operation make do with less. This explains the paper’s new DISD blog, though it’s difficult to believe that involves all that much investment.
In addition, the old company’s results are still lousy — newspaper revenue fell 9.7 percent in 2007, including an 11.5 percent drop between October and December. The stock price, which got a bounce when the split was announced, was 20 percent lower on Friday. All of this makes it sound like A.H. Belo is going to have to be very aggressive in controlling costs.
Which will please Wall Street and the people who own stock in the company, but won’t do anyone who reads the paper much good. But then, as noted, readers are not a high priority.