Strib revenue bombshell — the day after

It’s always a happy day in my get-a-life when a private company publicly discusses numbers. Yesterday, Star Tribune publisher, chairman and part-owner Chris Harte issued a memo revealing the paper’s revenues had fallen $75 million in two years. How big a drop is that?

About 20 percent. Before Avista bought the paper, the Strib was owned by McClatchy Co., a public chain that helpfully broke out Minneapolis revenues in government filings. If you work back two years from 2007, McClatchy reported $378.6 million in revenues for the fiscal year ending Dec. 31, 2005. Deduct Harte’s $75 million, and you get an ’07 revenue number of $303 million or so — a 19.8 percent fall over two years, or about 10 percent per year.

(We don’t have 2006 numbers because McClatchy didn’t report them in the sale year, but Harte’s memo indicates the revenue drop was less in ’06 and accelerated in 2007.)

For a longer-term visual look at the revenue picture, see the chart below. It’s worth noting the Harte frequently compares Strib stats to 2000, the paper’s high-water revenue year and the last one before the 9/11 economic hit. All info is from McClatchy reports and, for ’07, Harte’s statement.

One other follow-up: yesterday, I said I was still trying to get the skinny on Restructuring Associates, Inc. (RAI), the labor-management consultant the Strib has hired to “help frame our approach to finding solutions,” as Harte put it.

According to officials of two unions that have had first-hand dealings with RAI, Harte made the right move.

“We found our RAI representative to be an honest broker,” says Eric Wolfe, the communications for International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers 1245, a California-based local that negotiates with Pacific Gas and Electric Co.

Marlayne Morgan, a former IBEW 1245 official and point person dealing with RAI, is downright effusive. “They are really a firm of incredible integrity, and would recommend them to anyone,” she says. “Many of them are ex-federal mediators; many are previous union and management employees, but their specialties are creating partnerships between labor and management.”

Steve Feldhaus, the business manager of IBEW 1347, a Cincinnati-based local that negotiated with Duke Energy over health care changes, concurs: “They were pretty straight shooters. I don’t think [Strib workers] have anything to be afraid of with them. They were helpful. I wouldn’t have problem working them again.”

Now, RAI doesn’t turn cash-hungry owners into puppy dogs, but they can at least avoid misunderstandings and needless distrust. It’s clear the Strib can use the help; Harte didn’t bother to call in union leaders before announcing the RAI hire or the bombshell numbers.

Star Tribune revenue

* McClatchy Co. did not report 2006 revenue numbers in the sale year, but Star Tribune publisher and chairman Chris Harte has indicated the Star Tribune’s revenue drop was less that year and accelerated in 2007.

Source: McClatchy Co. reports, Harte statement

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