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Wednesday, June 6, 2012

'Editors don't buy newspapers. You know that, right?'


By the spring of 2006, several promising prospects for newspapers to buy had turned out to be dead ends.
We heard about a group of four weeklies for sale in southern New York, around Binghamton.
Neither Nicola nor I was very optimistic about this prospect, but I needed to keep my dream alive, even if I knew it was going to end in disappointment.
It turns out we had very good reason to be pessimistic.
Even though the owner wanted $450,000 for his newspapers, he couldn’t tell us how much money he paid himself as owner. He “just took money out” when he needed it. He never took a salary.
When we asked him about whether we’d be able to buy a house in the area (thinking about our Middlebury experience), he eagerly told us we would be able to get a great house for a steal. 
He drove us down to a residential neighborhood near the hospital, where just about every other house was for sale.
“Why are all these houses for sale?” we asked him.
“Oh, they just announced they’re closing the hospital, and a lot of these people who live here work for the hospital, so they’re all in a mad rush to sell their houses,” he told us, as if this were the best news in the world.
I’m not sure how fast we left that town, but I’m pretty sure we broke the speed limit.
I was becoming despondent. It looked as if I was going to have to give up on my dream of owning a newspaper.
I decided to call a newspaper broker to see if he could help us find just what we were looking for.
After telling him a little bit about myself, he asked, “So you’re an editor looking to buy a newspaper.”
“That’s right,” I said.
“Editors don’t buy newspapers,” he said condescendingly. “You know that, right? Editors don’t buy newspapers.”
I got a little testy with him, then, and not-so-gently conveyed to him the seriousness of my intentions to buy a newspaper.
Well, in that case, he said, he had the perfect little property for me. It’s a great price, a real bargain, the owner is motivated to sell a group of four weekly papers in southern New York, around Binghamton, for just $450,000.
I don’t recall which was louder, the sound of my palm smacking my forehead or the sound of me slamming the phone down.

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