As the Globe turns

Rumblings inside the New York Times Co. indicate that the Boston Globe may be heading toward the auction block. But the Times Co.’s exit plan got a lot cloudier yesterday, when the local businessman who had been publicly chasing the Globe announced a deal to buy seven daily newspapers out west.

The Orange County Register reported yesterday that it, along with six other related papers, will be acquired by a trust controlled by Aaron Kushner, a Boston-area businessman. Kushner had previously seen a bid to acquire Maine’s biggest newspaper group collapse over conflicts over hours, wages, and job protection at the papers. Kushner wound up kicking the tires on the Maine papers after putting together a high-profile group to bid on the Globe, and then being told by the Times Co. that the paper wasn’t for sale.

Kushner assembled a team last year that included former Globe newsroom honcho Ben Bradlee, Jr., and two members of the Taylor family that sold the Globe to the Times Co. for $1.1 billion in 1993. Jack Connors had also been publicly linked to the group. Kushner’s team put a $200 million unsolicited bid to the Times Co., but was rebuffed by the company’s then-CEO, Janet Robinson.

New York magazine recently dove deep into the financial turmoil and power struggles at the Times Co. The magazine argued that Robinson’s recent sacking stemmed from conflict inside the family that controls the Times Co. Members of the Ochs-Sulzberger family are seeing their personal finances squeezed by the Times Co.’s financial struggles, and are pressing company management to free up cash to resume lucrative dividend payments. These sorts of familial conflicts led the Bancroft clan to sell the Wall Street Journal to Rupert Murdoch, and the New York article keyed in on maneuvers by the Ochs-Sulzbergers to free up cash while still retaining control of the Times, their flagship property.

According to New York, those efforts focus heavily on unloading the Globe. The magazine reported that internal tensions within the Times Co. exploded after Robinson rebuffed Kushner’s Globe takeover bid. Robinson, according to New York, wanted to put off selling the Globe until after the paper’s new paid site took hold “and possibly improved the paper’s sale value.” The Globe is now being overseen by a Sulzberger cousin who clashed with Robinson, and who, New York reported, “wanted to see [the paper] sold sooner rather than later.”

If the post-Robinson Times Co. is now more willing to unload the Globe, though, it faces a cloudier market. In a statement to the Herald yesterday, Kushner didn’t close the door to making future media acquisitions, but he’s surely working with a shorter pile of cash after buying in Orange County than he was before. Connors tells the Herald today that he hasn’t spoken to Kushner in six months. “I’m out of that loop,” he says. “I’m not an investor.” 

                                                                                                                                            –PAUL MCMORROW


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