Hazlehurst: A better Gazette under Anschutz will benefit the city

Filed under: Daily News |

As we predicted last week, Phil Anschutz bought the Gazette. More precisely, a company wholly owned by Anschutz, Clarity Media, bought it.

So what will happen? What will change? Who will get fired – and who will get hired?

For nearly two decades, The Gazette suffered under the yoke of Freedom Communications. Although the paper was extraordinarily profitable as a stand-alone enterprise, Freedom swallowed up that revenue. The Gazette, as well as scores of other media properties, supported a bloated corporate bureaucracy and a greedy collection of absentee owners. The absentee owners eventually cashed out in a bizarrely structured deal that saddled Freedomn with hundreds of millions in debt, which eventually forced the chain to file for bankruptcy.

Cash flowed upstream to Orange County, and the paper declined. The newsroom was cut, cut again, and cut some more. There was no money to invest in new presses, or a more sophisticated web presence, or new editorial/advertising products that might strengthen the newspaper.

Publications such as the Independent and the Business Journal, once ignored by the grandees at the Gazette as mere anklebiters, ill-bred curs of no significance in the market, grabbed readers and market share. The secular decline of daily print pubs didn’t help either – so it seemed that the G was on its last legs.

And then…aaand then….aaaand then – along came Phil!! Slow-walking Phil, slow-talkin’ Phil, along came Phil!

Talk about a deus ex machina! No plot twist could be more unlikely. One of America’s most successful businessmen moves to town, buys The Broadmoor, and now buys the Gazette.

No more remote corporate owners, interested only in the bottom line. The Gazette now has an owner with deep pockets ($7.8 billion deep, according to Forbes), media savvy, and the will and ability to create not just a good newspaper, but a great one.

According to an individual with intimate knowledge of the transaction, Clarity and Anschutz don’t have a minutely detailed plan of action. They’re moving quickly to put “the right people” in appropriate positions, and then the building process will begin.

Will The Gazette go to the free distribution model created by Clarity a few years ago, which we described at some length last week? Probably not – and if so, not for a while.

What we’ll see is a heftier paper, a better website, and, above all, a surety of purpose.

Personally, I hope that some of the great reporters at The Gazette who have struggled so valiantly to do good work (and have done so!) will be given the opportunity to spread their wings and thrive under the new ownership.

Rich Laden, Wayne Heilman – I hope to see you dancing in front of the building, singing “Free at last/Free at last/Good God almighty, we’re free at last!”

And what about us, the erstwhile anklebiters? Now that the biggest dog of all is out in the tall grass, will we go timidly back to our kennels and abandon the fight?

Nope! We look forward to the competition. We’ll defend our market share, and fight for more. It’ll be a battle that will benefit the city, and it’ll be a lot of fun.

As Will Smith said in the film Independence Day: “C’mon! C’mon! Is that all you got??!!” Bring it on, big guy!

And by the way, welcome to town – you’re gonna love it here.