Posted at 12:21 PM on May 6, 2008
by Tim Nelson
It's probably a lot like what's going on wherever they're putting out a newspaper these days, according to Lauren Fine. She's a former Merrill Lynch media industry analyst - considered one of the country's best newspaper watchers. She's now teaching at Kent State University.
She doesn't have any direct knowledge of the situation in Minneapolis. But Fine doesn't think the Star Tribune's owners brought in the Blackstone Group in preparation for a bankruptcy.
Its sounds more like a sub-prime mortgage, as Fine explains it:
"My guess is that if there were covenants at any time that they could be coming dangerously close to breaking through them, and this would be the time ahead when you hit those problems, that you would look for alternatives. And alternatives could range from trying to get an infusion of equity. It could be renegotiating to a different type of instrument that maybe has no near term cash pay component, but maybe something that defers those payments to later. It could be something that takes into account new covenants and doesn't change the interest rate structure... I'm guessing, but I imagine that they're facing some severe pressure points right now."
She's not putting any odds on a workout. Fine ran through a list of other scenarios for the endgame for the Newspaper(s) of the Twin Cities. Here's her run-down, from likeliest to the longest shot:
● A joint operating agreement with the Media News-owned Pioneer Press that would combine back shop and production resources and leave the newsrooms separate. Whether they are "intact" would be another matter altogether. "If they are interested in a JOA, I doubt the Justice Department would have a problem with that," says Fine.
● An acquisition of the Star Tribune by MediaNews. It would be difficult for the bigger paper to buy a smaller competitor under the Newspaper Protection Act, but if the Strib does declare bankruptcy, it could help satisfy the NPA requirement that an acquired property be "failing." But Fine and other industry observers don't think Media News is in any condition to be borrowing for or spending money on any acquisitions either.
● The Hail Mary. The Capital Times in Madison, Wis., recently quit publishing a paper and went online only. It slashed costs, but doesn't allow them to monetize sheet after sheet of newsprint any more, whether anyone reads through the "Bargain Pet" classifieds or not. The online revenue today is only a fraction of the print revenue, and Fine doubts there's enough time for the two to converge in Minnesota.
● Stop the presses. Businesses close down all the time, some of them quite substantial. Bear Stearns started in 1923 and survived the Great Depression. But not the foreclosure meltdown. It had more than 15,000 employees when J.P. Morgan bought it at fire sale prices. "The option would also be to basically say, 'You know what? This isn't working," says Fine. "We're really sorry. You have another paper. It's a great paper. We made them a better paper by virtue of competition, but we're sorry, we can't afford this any more, we're shutting the doors. I doubt that would happen."
You can hear the whole 7 minute Megillah right here.
Posted at 2:13 PM on May 6, 2008
by Tim Nelson
Relief groups are scrambling to get aid to Myanmar to help victims of last weekend's cyclone - the south Asian version of a hurricane.
But that's no comfort to Minnesota's fastest growing refugee community, ethnic Karen who fled Myanmar, which the Karen still refer to as Burma.
A translator for the St. Paul Ramsey County Department of Public Health, he fled Myanmar in 2002. He and his then-pregnant wife crawled under gunfire on the Thai border to escape oppression of the ethnic Karen at home.
They've still got family back home, but there's been no phone contact, no email, nothing to do but listen to the radio and watch television since the cyclone hit over the weekend.
The storm swept straight across the northern neck of the Karen homeland. And though his family lives inland, Dwe says about half the population of the nation's Bay of Bengal delta is ethnic Karen.
"I feel like I am one of them," says Dwe, who lives in St. Paul with his wife and three children. "I feel terribly sad for them."
Like many other Karen, Dwe joined the armed struggle against the military dictatorship in Myanmar. His people have struggled for their independence, or at least some measure of autonomy, for half a century.
It's sparked a sometimes brutal response in the nation's Karen state. The government began a military offensive against the insurgent Karen National Liberation Army two years ago.
Dwe himself had been arrested, beaten and nearly summarily executed before he fled his native country six years ago.
Now, he and other Karen in Minnesota fear that the political unrest will spell even further disaster for their friends and family back home. Like those among the Tamil diaspora after the tsunami struck Sri Lanka in 2004, Karen refugees fear their brethren will intentionally be left out of recovery from the natural disaster.
And they are brethren. Many, like Dwe, are among a significant Christan minority. Their families were brought to the church by American Baptist missionaries to southeast Asia nearly two centuries ago. It's part of the reason they've had to flee their homeland.
For many, though, there's no where to go. More than a half million Karen were though to have been driven from their homes by the armed struggle with the government. About 150,000 have fled to Thailand, swelling eight refugee camps on the northern border.
"We're really concerned," Dwe said. "We really want to have good management for this assistance to get directly to the people that are suffering, not to the Burmese military. We want to cooperate with the local government."
He said he expects the death toll to rise dramatically in coming days, nonetheless. Dwe says the estimates of 20,000 dead and 40,000 missing only account for the cities, not low lying rice-growing areas where many Karen grow rice.
Dwe also fears a lack of clean water and food, dysentery and malaria will kill many more in the wake of the cyclone.
The eventual death toll, he says, "will never, ever be counted."
Here's a 5-minute interview with him.