Is time running out for the Times-Call?
Rumors abound lately that the Longmont Daily Times-Call newspaper is about to be sold. Those in the know are mum about the matter. But there’s enough to suggest that, indeed, the Times (or the Times-Call) they are a changing.
The newspaper business has not been fairing well. According to the Newspaper Association of America, daily newspaper readership peaked in 1984 at 63.3 million. By 2008, daily circulation had dropped more than 20 percent to 48.6 million. Since 2000, newspapers have also seen a precipitous decline in advertising revenues. A University of California Davis study reports that advertising revenue, adjusted for inflation, was lower in 2008 ($38 billion) than in every year since 1975. According to the study, figures for 2009 are likely to be similar to those of 1965.
Faced with changes of this magnitude in the newspaper publishing business, the 2008 $20 million investment made by Lehman Communications Corporation and Western L, LLC (also a Lehman company) in the Longmont Printing Center in Berthoud is likely a severe financial drain.
As an alternative to publication in the Times-Call, in 2009 the City of Longmont investigated the possibility of placing its notices of ordinances and other official actions on its website with hard copies at select locations around the city in order to reduce city expenses. Dean Lehman appeared before council on several occasions to plead the case to continue publication in the Times-Call. However, that change would have required either modifications in state legislation or a local ballot measure. No further action was taken; and as a consequence, the Times-Call saved some of its advertising revenue.
In February, the Longmont Ledger reported that the bank that holds the loan on the Longmont Printing Center demanded a cut in debt. These demands resulted in the consolidation of three weekly papers in Louisville, Lafayette and Erie into a single weekly now known as the Colorado Hometown Weekly.
The quiet layoffs, attritions and consolidations over the past two years seem to be inadequate to stem the financial stresses on the Times-Call in this declining economy struggling towards an uncertain recovery.
It is well understood in the Longmont community that the Lehmans and their newspaper have carried the water for those in Longmont with long-standing economic and political interests, whether or not these interests have been in the best interest of the community as a whole.
Should the Times-Call change ownership as rumored, it is hoped that a new publisher will demand a healthier distance between the paper’s management and editorial staff and Longmont’s “special interests.” More substantive and investigative reporting would also be welcomed. These changes would likely boost the paper’s circulation and advertising revenues.
The History of Longmont Times-Call and the Lehman Communications Corporation
Edward and Ruth Lehman and others formed the Times-Call Publishing Company on January 30, 1957. Their vision was astonishingly ambitious. While their primary purpose was to publish a newspaper, they also planned to become publishers of journals, magazines, books and other literary works. Their original Articles of Incorporation even indicate that they hoped to acquire licenses or franchises for “operating AM or FM radio stations, television transmissions or any other means of transmission or communication…” On February 1, 1957 they purchased Longmont Times-Call.
Over the years, there were numerous mergers and acquisitions. In May 1967, the Times-Call merged with the Loveland Reporter-Herald and in 1978 it purchased the Canon City Daily Record. On December 30, 1986, the three publishing companies (Times-Call, Loveland and Royal Gorge) became Lehman Communications Corporation, a Lehman-family company.
Lehman Communications continued to grow. In 1985 the Times-Call added a Sunday edition and became a seven-day-a-week newspaper. In 1988 it doubled its size to 22,500 square feet. The Louisville Times, Lafayette News and the Erie Review were purchased in June of 1997 and in 1998 the Times-Call converted to morning delivery.
As the Loveland Reporter was growing into larger facilities, land in Berthoud, Colorado, was purchased (1993) in anticipation of a potential new printing facility. It wasn’t until 2007 that the decision was finalized to build the Lehman Printing Center in Berthoud.
Documents filed with the Larimer County Recorder indicate that on June 10, 2008, the Ruth Lehman Trust sold the vacant land to Western L, LLC for $429,393. Western L is managed by Ed Lehman. On August 1, 2008, Western L borrowed $6,686,987 from Wells Fargo. The Deed of Trust matures on August 15, 2013.
To secure the loan Lehman Communications became Western L’s tenant, agreeing to lease the new facility annually for a basic rent of $990,000. Lehman Communications is responsible for “additional rent” by assuming all other expenses in connection with operating, maintaining and securing the facility. Its 10-year lease began on February 1, 2009 and has a five-year extension option.
The 60,000 square foot facility with its state-of-the-art equipment is an investment totaling about $20 million with loans from Wells Fargo, Lehman Communications and Ed and Dean Lehman.
Addendum 12/1/2010 in response to comments
There were a number of “sources” for this article. They were sufficient number, variety and credibility to justify presenting the matter for public consumption. However, because much is riding on the outcome of the sale of the Times-Call, “facts” were left intentionally vague.
The irony is that the precise reason for the Lehmans’ financial stress, the construction of the new printing facility, is the reason that the paper is attractive to a potential buyer. In published reports Dean Singleton has expressed a desire to upgrade the printing capabilities of his papers, and clearly the Berthoud Printing Center will do that. It also was designed for future expansion.
This writer expects no panacea from the new owner.
Singleton has flirted with outsourcing some newspaper functions, but apparently has abandoned that approach in favor of consolidating staff, as one commenter alludes. Whether the Lehmans have trimmed enough staff that additional cuts will not be necessary remains to be seen. Whoever is left standing or assigned from other Media News Group papers, it is hoped that they will be able to report on Longmont issues without the spoken and unspoken editorial bias of Ed and Dean Lehman. That, too, remains to be seen.
Singleton has been appropriately described as rabidly anti-union. Since the Times-Call is not unionized, this will not be a factor should the purchase occur. However, Singleton’s stance on unions undoubtedly influences his political perspectives.
Singleton appears to be somewhat eclectic in his political endorsements, having contributed to both Republicans and Democrats. His expressed opinions indicate that he prefers seasoned politicians over newcomers because of the political clout that comes with seniority. He rubs elbows with conservatives such as Philip Anschutz and moderate Democrats such as Bill Ritter and John Hickenlooper.
Profiling Singleton without knowing him, it appears that he is motivated by power as much as by money, if not more so. One breeds the other in a chicken/egg manner.
Reports indicate that he envisions a new “model” for newspapers in the digital age, one that expects consumers to pay for part of their online coverage. This is already the case with the Times-Call. Local readers must subscribe to the print edition for some of the coverage, particularly the Opinion Page. Singleton’s model is no sure thing for the newspaper industry, but he certainly is not timid, either in his vision or his acquisitions.
The holding company, Affiliated Media Inc., emerged from Chapter 11 bankruptcy earlier this year. Singleton remained at the helm but with 89% of the privately-held company in the hands of his lenders. That split was in return from a debt reduction from $930 million to $165 million. The stock arrangement allows Singleton to retain voting control and the selection of the majority of the board of directors.
William Dean Singleton
AP – Chairman; MediaNews Group – founder, CEO
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