As recently as last week, I’ve written that should the Pioneer Press and Star Tribune combine operations, longstanding antitrust rules probably won’t be a deterrent.
There’s more evidence for the proposition from Glenn Thrush at Politico, who reports that House Speaker Nancy Pelosi has asked U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder to “loosen antitrust regulation” on her hometown San Francisco Chronicle. That move would allow Chronicle owner Hearst to merge operations with a cluster of Northern California papers controlled by PiPress owner MediaNews Group.
The Chronicle is losing $50 million a year, but was blocked in 2007 from combining distribution and sales operations thanks to an activist’s lawsuit. At the time, opponents argued keeping two voices was better than one. Pelosi’s rejoinder seems to be this is the only way to assure that. (Not surprisingly, the activist disagrees.)
Pelosi, Thrush writes, believes permitting such a combo would also help keep other papers afloat. Including our own?
I’m still researching how much the local papers could combine operations before they’d trigger federal review. As I’ve noted, I don’t think they’ll go for a formal joint operating agreement, which would trigger Justice Department involvement, and instead opt for economies of scale short of that.
But if the powerful Speaker gets the AG to lower his bar — or perhaps goes further and pushes Congress to change the law — the Strib and PiPress might be able to go further faster, should they want to.