“As the newspaper industry flounders, one billionaire is still bullish about snatching up local papers. Warren Buffett tells Howard Kurtz why he thinks print has a future.”
“Warren Buffett insists he’s not just snatching up newspapers because he loves them.
“‘It’s not a soft-headed business decision,’ the 81-year-old investor tells me from his Omaha office. ‘It’s not going to move the needle at Berkshire Hathaway. If it were the widget business, I wouldn’t do it. The kind of earnings we’ll draw from our newspaper properties will be a very tiny fraction of, say, Burlington Railroad. But it’s not a dumb decision financially.’
“In putting his considerable money where his mouth is—Buffett’s company is in the process of buying 63 Media General newspapers for $142 million—the chief executive is challenging the widespread belief that the industry is trapped in a death spiral. His move comes at a time when the New Orleans Times-Picayune and three other Newhouse papers in Alabama are cutting back publication to three days each week.
“‘This three-day-a-week stuff really kills you,’ Buffett says. ‘You want people who look at you every day … Once people get used to online, I don’t think they come back.’
“When Buffett sings the praises of this ink-on-paper product, he can sound like a tribune of an earlier era, when young boys delivered the daily on bicycles to nicely tended front lawns. As a kid, he says, he checked the paper every day — first the stock quotes, then the box scores, ‘to see if Stan Musial went 2 for 4.’
“The Web is now awash in financial data and baseball results, of course, one of many signs of how newspapers are far less vital.
“Rich men buy papers for many reasons. Rupert Murdoch has lost a fortune on the New York Post because it enhances his political influence, and overpaid for The Wall Street Journal because of its unrivaled prestige. Real-estate developer Mort Zuckerman became a player by buying New York’s Daily News. But Buffett seems to have no agenda other than believing, in the end, that newspapers matter.
“As owner of the Buffalo News and a major Read the rest of this entry »