Who could be the Twin Cities’ Warren Buffett?

In recent years, the Oracle of Omaha has been issuing doom-laden pronouncements on the future of the newspaper business.
REUTERS/Kim Kyung-Hoon
In recent years, the Oracle of Omaha has been issuing doom-laden pronouncements on the future of the newspaper business.

In what I can only describe as a community-minded act of charity, multibillionaire Warren Buffett recently announced that he would pay $150 million to buy his hometown newspaper, the Omaha World-Herald.

Buffett, who had a paper route as a boy, once was an enthusiastic investor in newspapers. He’s owned the Buffalo (N.Y.) News since 1977 and owns a significant stake in the Washington Post Co.

But in recent years, the Oracle of Omaha has been issuing doom-laden pronouncements on the future of the newspaper business. He’s said that newspapers “have the possibility of unending losses.” Of the Buffalo paper, he said, “On an economic basis, you should sell this business.”

So I have to conclude that Buffett’s purchase of the Omaha paper is the generous act of an aging rich man who wants to leave his hometown with a stable, well-financed, locally run news organization.

Good for him, and great for Omaha. If only every city had a Warren Buffett to insure the future of its leading journalism organization.

That got me wondering: Who could be the Twin Cities’ Warren Buffett?

We have two daily newspapers that have struggled along with the rest of the industry over the last five years. But we don’t have anyone as wealthy as Buffett, ranked No. 2 on the Forbes 400 list of America’s wealthiest citizens with a fortune of $39 billion.

Still, we do have six members of the 400, billionaires all. What are the odds that any of them would decide to take a late-life flyer in the news business?

Glen Taylor: Nope. He fulfilled his obligation to buy a struggling community institution when he took over the Minnesota Timberwolves.

Whitney MacMillan: The Cargill heir stays completely out of the spotlight — Forbes didn’t even have a photo of him to run with his listing. Hard to imagine him taking on such a public role as owner of a newspaper.

Barbara Carlson Gage and Marilyn Carlson Nelson: Same story. The sisters, daughters of the late Curtis Carlson, have stayed out of the limelight in recent years — although Marilyn Nelson was unquestionably the state’s most powerful businesswoman for decades.

Richard Schulze: The Best Buy founder has shown admirable community-mindedness with his generous donations to educational institutions. But he’s never given any public indication of a desire to become a media mogul.

Stanley Hubbard: Now, this guy is already a media mogul. A legend in both terrestrial and satellite broadcasting, he’s smart and tough. Just the man to take on the challenge of breathing life into a fading news medium. The only trouble is, he’s probably too smart to bet on such an uncertain enterprise.

Bottom line: We probably don’t have anyone likely to step up and buy either of our daily newspapers. And you know what? We may not even need them. The Star Tribune has Mike Klingensmith, Editor & Publisher magazine’s newly named “Publisher of the Year,” and the Pioneer Press is under the corporate management of one of the news industry’s current visionaries, John Paton.

If they can’t figure out a path to the future, none of our local moneybags is likely to, either. And we’ll be a cold Omaha — without Omaha’s news coverage.

Comments (5)

  1. Submitted by David Brauer on 12/12/2011 - 05:52 am.

    Actually, Glen Taylor DID try to buy the Star Tribune — at least a chunk of it, with Vance Opperman — right after bankruptcy.

    They were turned down, the current owners deciding not to take what they apparently regarded as a low-buck offer. Presumably, the old paper looked a bit better than what some thought/think.

    http://www.minnpost.com/braublog/2009/11/30/13845/do_glen_taylor_and_vance_opperman_own_part_of_the_star_tribune_yet

  2. Submitted by Beryl John-Knudson on 12/12/2011 - 07:18 am.

    Millionaires in Minnesota, is that all there is?

    There must be a little old lady , retired now and raising goats on the edge of the forest, Somewhere, Minnesota… who cleaned offices for the rich and infamous all her life and wore the same battered sneakers to her solo night job and never trusted banks and somehow managed to sock away a bundle…and now, from her woodland glade retirement cabin, is looking furtively but determined, for a charity that will benefit all of the people some of the time; rich or poor – even if said paper is serendipity recycled from a dumpster and if such good fortune comes to pass, the printed word can still be enjoyed even by the a somewhat shabby, not always too well informed middle class nowadays – and daily, sad to say, getting shabbier.

    Speak Up Matilda wherever you are…before all the bigger fortune makers start banging on the press room door.

    By the way how does a newsboy fold a newspaper that will sail the farthest?

    And what is the correct name of the book I have here in our library somewhere… “Sunshine on my Doorstep”, the story of the Star Tribune?

  3. Submitted by John Reinan on 12/12/2011 - 08:33 am.

    Yeah, I knew that about Taylor, but I couldn’t resist the opportunity for a T-wolves joke.

    By the way, Brauer — who poked a stick in your cage???? En fuego!

  4. Submitted by Hiram Foster on 12/12/2011 - 10:35 am.

    Vance Opperman is the obvious candidate. He has fooled around with media in the past, and he sees himself as a public spirited kind of a guy. But the history of rich people buying media properties as personal playthings isn’t promising. Vance himself hasn’t been all that successful at it. Sooner or later even public spirited rich people tire of losing money.

  5. Submitted by Steve Aschburner on 12/12/2011 - 11:25 am.

    Just wait a little longer and it won’t take a Forbes 400-lister. Someone from the 99 Percenters might do.

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