Did the Chandlers get out when the getting was good? Call me a cynic, but I thought the sale yesterday of the once-proud Times Mirror (TMC) to Tribune (TRB) was an admission that old-line media has no place to grow.
When I worked for the
Los Angeles Herald Examiner
in the 1970s, I was struck that the
and its parent, Times Mirror, pretty much saw themselves as the growth engine of the future. When you met with their people or bumped into them in the journalism crowd, they had that kind of air you now get from being around people at
. Arrogance? Triumph? Paper of the future? Who knows? They were growing, furiously, and expanding into whatever markets headed their way. They were about cocky dominance.
But somewhere along the line, that process of bringing down big rolls of newsprint from Canada, big barrels of ink from who knows where, lots of trucks and gasoline and hundreds of drivers and packagers all for a totally saturated market that liked to get its news from TV anyway seems to have run out of growth.
(Ironic that a cereal guy, another industry that has run out of growth, recognized this early on.)
And Times Mirror, which has unsuccessfully invested in all of the other communications revolutions of the last 20 years -- cable, TV, cellular and electronic distribution of news -- was about to embark on another unsuccessful version: the Net.
Rather than have to fight one more rearguard action against one more better technology and be beaten once again, they sold. They sold before the dot-com ad money, which has inflated the value of every paper in the world, ran dry. They sold before the dot-com folk realized that it ain't such a good way to reach people anyway. They sold before
could take away all of the classified advertising that Times Mirror has lived on for the past 20 years. They sold before the low-single-digit growth resumed.
Good for them!
Of course, the release was peppered with references to the brave new world of the Internet and the terrific Internet sites that Times Mirror developed. Which always makes me laugh because I bet they haven't even assigned a full-time ad staff to their sites, as print people have a real aversion to the Net. (You think I am joking? I corresponded with the son of a high-level exec from TMC for a while and he was begging his dad to get a computer and use it, to no avail.)
Oh well, now it doesn't matter. It is Tribune's problem. Maybe they will figure out what to do.
James J. Cramer is manager of a hedge fund and co-founder of TheStreet.com. At time of publication, his fund was long Yahoo!, Cisco and Intel. His fund often buys and sells securities that are the subject of his columns, both before and after the columns are published, and the positions that his fund takes may change at any time. Under no circumstances does the information in this column represent a recommendation to buy or sell stocks. Cramer's writings provide insights into the dynamics of money management and are not a solicitation for transactions. While he cannot provide investment advice or recommendations, he invites you to comment on his column at