Benson offers to buy Times-Picayune; paper not for sale, say Advance officials

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wwltv.com

Posted on July 26, 2012 at 10:35 AM

Updated Wednesday, Oct 30 at 12:13 PM

Mike Hoss and Dominic Massa / Eyewitness News

NEW ORLEANS – In a letter to Times-Picayune owner Steven Newhouse, Saints and Hornets owner Tom Benson has made his strongest statement yet that he is interested in purchasing the newspaper, Eyewitness News has learned. (See Benson's letter)

In a letter dated July 25, a copy of which was obtained by WWL-TV, Benson writes that he and others are interested in purchasing the newspaper.

“I would welcome the opportunity to speak to you about my interest in purchasing the Times-Picayune, with others.  If this is something that is an option, we can initiate this at your earliest convenience,” Benson wrote.

But officials for Advance Publications said the paper is not for sale. "Advance Publications has no intention of selling The Times-Picayune," Donald Newhouse, president of Advance Publications, said in an e-mail.

Benson wrote an earlier letter to Newhouse, in which he said he urged Newhouse to reconsider the plan to cut back to a three-day per week publishing schedule.  In his July 25 letter, he also mentions a private visit with Newhouse following that initial contact.

“You were very gracious to host me and my wife Gayle in your New York office, to meet and discuss your plans…. I can’t thank you enough for the time you spent with us.  It was an eye opening meeting and certainly your decisions have come with very careful thought,” Benson wrote.

But he adds that he, like many in the city, has “struggled with this decision” to cut back, which he said is part of his motivation for expressing interest in the paper.

Benson ends his letter by restating what he feels is the importance of a strong daily newspaper for the city.

“The city of New Orleans is a city of immense culture, economic growth and host to millions of people annually; it is a nationally and internationally recognized city.  It is a city deserving of a seven day a week newspaper.”

In a personal note handwritten at the bottom of his letter, Benson writes "In 1985, the Saints were leaving.  I would hate for this to happen with our paper."  Benson of course stepped in at that time to purchase the team and has since become one of the top NFL owners.

In the past, Newhouse and Advance Publications have maintained that the newspaper is not for sale.  The Times-Picayune reported after Benson's initial letter that Newhouse expressed thanks for Benson's interest, but little else.

"I thanked Mr. Benson for his letter, and asked that Ricky Mathews and Jim Amoss follow up with him in person to discuss the big role Saints coverage will play in our future," Newhouse said.

Benson and other civic and business leaders have been part of efforts to urge the Newhouse family, Advance Publications and the Times-Picayune, to reconsider its decision to change its publishing schedule this fall, a decision which also meant massive layoffs and job cuts.

Benson's ownership of FOX 8 could make his acquistion of the Times-Picayune tricky, as the Federal Communication Commission has rules regarding cross-ownership of media in the same market.

"Beginning in 1975, FCC rules banned cross-ownership by a single entity of a daily newspaper and television or radio broadcast station operating in the same local 'market.' Under the 2007 revised rule, the FCC evaluates a proposed cross-ownership combination on a case-by-case basis to determine whether it would be in the public interest – specifically, whether it would promote competition, localism and diversity," says FCC

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