How does someone sell a business that's losing money without the one asset that makes it valuable? That's what the good people at Scripps Howard are asking themselves, or not asking themselves, about the Albuquerque Tribune. The Joint Operating Agreement (JOA) between the Trib and the Journal allows the Trib to use the Journal's press, share its building and live off part of the Journal's ad revenue. Without it, the Trib is but a name—and a hardworking, talented staff of about 45 full-time employees.
But Scripps, the owner of the Tribune, announced the years-early termination of the JOA at the same time it announced the paper is for sale. Marvin Gladstone asked about the value of the Tribune when he was speaking to the broker who's handling the paper's sale. "'I don't know.' That was his answer," says Gladstone. You have to wonder if Scripps is really planning to "sell" the paper after all.
Gladstone's one of a handful of people who meet every Thursday to discuss the fate of Albuquerque's afternoon daily. They're mostly Trib readers, people like Ted Cloak who saw the announcement of the sale and the potential closure. They call themselves the Friends of the Albuquerque Tribune, and they want to find a way to keep the paper operating online. "That's what the group consists of, Marvin and me and people who wrote letters," Cloak says. The group is still working on incorporation.
It disturbs Cloak to think that Albuquerque would only have one daily in town. "That's the main thing: We have to have two competing newspapers," he says.
But the group's got deadline pressure. The story about the Trib's sale originally published by the paper's staff said "a decision on the paper's status is expected within two months." That was on Aug. 28. The goal of the group is to retain the editorial staff as it is now, the operations of which come to about $2 million a year, Gladstone reported at a meeting on Thursday, Sept. 27. Gladstone is on the board of Channel 27 and a new charter school, the Media Arts Collaborative Charter School (MACCS). One thought is that the Tribune, as an online-only publication, could work as a laboratory at MACCS that would include student participation. But as Cloak says, "This is all very much in the talking stages." That might not be far enough along in the process to salvage the staff before Scripps closes in.
On the bright side, as Tribune editor Phill Casaus says, "The great untapped market out there is the online market—there's no question about it—in this town and every town." And though the afternoon newspaper may be an antiquated media of the past, the Trib has already been working hard on its Web content. "It's a different world than the one I started in in 1977," Casaus says.