The Indianapolis Star: how well-fixed?

Dateline: Tue 03 Mar 2009

For several months now, some readers have sent emails speculating on the financial health of the Indianapolis Star: how sound is it?

We all know Gannett is feeling pain in the marketplace, in part, as one readers suggests, "because they have required a 20 percent return

so as to cover the huge debt incurred with acquisitions and excessive

management compensation." (That 20 percent return was even higher in 2000 or so; Gannett, as one article reported, was like the "hootchy kootchy" act whenever financial analysts in the newspaper industry met -- people would rush in to hear the Gannett report, because its returns were always so high).

Now, some of us are wondering about the Star. The same reader noted that the Pulliam family, former owners of the Star, paid its publishers considerably less than Gannett pays. Also, the wealthy Pulliams were likely satisfied with returns of 10 percent or so -- again, this is speculation, but it sounds plausible.

There's anecdotal evidence that the Star is the most financially healthy of all the papers in the Gannett stable. If this is the case, it has more to do with loyal readership in Indianapolis and Central Indiana than any tricks Gannett has pulled out of its bag. Historically, the Star always enjoyed better "penetration" of readers than other mid-sized dailies.

So does anyone know the Star's financial status? Does anybody have a copy of the annual report to share?

This reader continues, "It's been the would-be media moguls like Gannett that over-reached themselves and broke the back of more than one

newspaper, as they turned on the milking machines to keep Wall Street and top brass happy.

"Does anyone know what the Star's number are? I wonder if those numbers would be encouraging to potential local ownership, sans the albatross named Gannett...."

This same reader also suggests that Gannett plays with its numbers. For instance, he says, when a relative of his became editor of a Gannett paper, "she quickly discovered that one third of her staff had been reassigned to USA Today, though they were still on her payroll. Hence my suspicion that the Star might look much better on the balance sheet without the Gannett debt and headcount shenanigans."

These are valid questions in an increasingly shaky economy. And the notion that Gannett might fail, and still leave the Star standing with good numbers -- and the potential to be purchased -- is a true case of "hope springs eternal."

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