Saturday, September 27, 2008

When the going gets tough, someone sues

This unusually candid story from the San Diego Union-Tribune about the economic decline of newspapers gives a more realistic view of the state of the industry than any take by Editor & Publisher.
Things haven't gone smoothly in Minneapolis, either. In May, the Star Tribune reported that Avista had written down $75 million of the $100 million it invested in the purchase, reflecting the estimated decline in the paper's value.
Then in June, the company skipped a payment to secondary debt holders as it sought a restructuring plan with the senior creditors who hold the largest chunk of the debt. The company said it had enough money to make the payment, but chose not to as it worked to restructure the debt while also cutting costs and trying to boost revenue.

There's worse.
  • Family-owned Landmark Communications put itself up for sale at the start of the year and succeeded in selling the Weather Channel to NBC Universal, but it has yet to announce a buyer for its nine daily newspapers.

  • Investors have fled publicly traded newspaper companies in the past year, driving down the stock price of McClatchy about 80 percent, Gannett about 60 percent and The New York Times Co. about 20 percent.

  • Standard and Poor's reported in June that the group, Philadelphia Media Holdings, had missed a payment on secondary loans and was in talks with senior creditors for relief. The group reportedly fell below the debt-to-cash-flow ratio required by its senior lenders, who then blocked a payment to a secondary group of lenders.
Philadelphia Media Holdings bought the Philadelphia newspapers dumped by McClatchy after they bailed out bought Knight Ridder.

Copley is trying to sell the San Diego Union-Tribune. Without much success.
Oh, and Sam Zell is being sued by present and former employees in a class action lawsuit in which they call the sale to Zell "a scam." That sale has mired the company in $13 billion of debt. The litigants are worried about their pension plans that are saddled with Tribune stock.

From Fortune magazine: "For Zell, more Tribune hell" Subhead: A suit filed by his own employees re-opens the question of how the billionaire bought so much for so little
In a more interesting vein, the suit also alleges that the Tribune's board was seduced into approving the deal in April 2007 by the allure of $25 million in incentive payments to top management and that it therefore overlooked more attractive alternatives and the fact that Zell's plan would foreseeably gut employees' pension benefits.
The plaintiffs are Dan Neil, a Pulitzer-prize winning auto critic who is still employed at the Times, while former writers Corie Brown (a food-and-wine critic), Henry Weinstein (legal affairs), Walter Roche, Jr. (a Baltimore Sun as well as L.A. Times veteran), Myron Levin (consumer affairs), and Jack Nelson (once a Pulitzer-prize winning D.C. bureau chief) are the other proposed class representatives.

Tuesday, September 02, 2008


May 2008 - A prominent liberal talk show host in San Francisco for two decades who denounced President Bush and the war in Iraq and was known for hosting "God Talk," a Sunday morning program on the problems with slandering religion will be going to a jail nearby sometime soon.

Bernie Ward pleaded guilty to a charge of distributing child porn. The plea agreement he signed, quoted in court, contained an admission that he had sent between 15 and 150 pornographic images via e-mail to various people. He was indicted by a grand jury in December and was fired Dec. 31.

A former Catholic priest, Ward initially pleaded not guilty and said he had downloaded a few pornographic images over several weeks as research for a book on hypocrisy among Americans who preach morality in public. Police in Oakdale released transcripts in February of a series of online sex chats between Ward and a dominatrix known online as "Sexfairy" in December 2004 and January 2005. The transcripts quote Ward fantasizing about naked children, most often his own, with no apparent reference to any subject he was researching. Police said he had sent photos to the woman that showed children engaged in sexual activity. The woman turned him in.
Prosecutors are asking for nine years in prison.

Talk about hypocrisy. After the priesthood, Ward worked as a schoolteacher, served as legislative assistant for then-Rep. Barbara Boxer for three years, and was hired by KGO in 1985. As an investigative reporter, he won a national award for a series of stories in the mid-1990s, in partnership with the San Francisco Examiner, that exposed financial and sexual improprieties in the San Francisco Archdiocese.

In December when Bernie pleaded not guilty, his lawyer said, "It's really tragic that the government has decided to prosecute him for a judgment he made as a journalist and to treat him as a child pornographer when he is not." Yeah.

Graphic Police report (from the Smoking Gun). The filthy man speculated about his own children, both male and female, and their friends.

Bernie's unsealed indictment here. As someone commented when Ward was indicted, "There is a God."

Bernie will be sentenced August 28.
ABC7 reported (May 8, 2008) that complaints about Ward date back to his time in as a priest.
It's the same old story -- Catholic priest gets in trouble for complaints of sexual activity with minors. Only this time, it's Bernie Ward.

Ward often discussed his time as a Catholic priest during his weeknight KGO Radio show and his Sunday morning program, "God Talk." However, he never told the complete story of what happened when he was Father Bernie.
The I-Team has been able to confirm two sexual misconduct complaints against Ward when he was a priest. [Detailed at the story.]

Ward's guilty plea brings some comfort to one of his victims. She says it's important for people to know that someone who criticized the Catholic church for so long on the radio had his own complaints of misconduct when he was a priest.

UPDATED September 2 - Ward was sentenced to 7 years in prison. (It's federal sentencing, so no parole.) In addition to being a Catholic priest who was the subject of two sexual misconduct complaints, Ward was a high school teacher and served as legislative assistant for then-Rep. Barbara Boxer for three years.
Ironically, Ward received the Scripps Howard Award for journalism as a result of his ten-part series, Heaven Help Us, which explored allegations of financial and sexual misconduct of the Catholic Church in San Francisco.
Ward will be on lifetime supervision after his release.