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Desperately Seeking the News

Biz pigs


By Henry Walker

The Nashville Scene, a highly profitable newspaper owned by approximately 30 local stockholders, was bought recently by the paper’s editor, Bruce Dobie, and its publisher, Albie Del Favero, for $2.5 million, according to a source familiar with the transaction. The sale price is less than what other similar papers are selling for, according to a nationally respected newspaper brokerage report. Del Favero said Monday that the price is fair and that he has heard no complaints from stockholders.

Dobie and Del Favero have run the paper since 1989, when a coalition of investors put together by Del Favero bought the paper from Ed Richey, Gordon Inman, and then-Scene publisher Chuck Snyder. Until the July 26 purchase, however, Del Favero owned no part of the paper, and Dobie owned only a small number of shares, Del Favero said.

Shortly after the Scene was acquired in 1989, it lost considerable sums of money, sometimes as much as $10,000 a week. However, the paper essentially broke even in its third year of operation. It has been making a profit ever since.

The new owners would not disclose the paper’s current earnings or sale price. “It was a private transaction, and we choose to keep it that way,” Dobie said.

According to financial information sent to stockholders and obtained by this reporter, the Scene’s net earnings were $329,000 in 1993, $442,000 in 1994, and $609,000 in 1995. The paper’s gross revenues last year were $3 million. According to the Spring 1996 Bolitho-Cribb report, authored by one of the nation’s leading newspaper brokerage firms, large weekly newspapers are selling for six to eight times net earnings, or 1 to 1.5 times gross revenues. Specialty and niche publications, meanwhile, are selling for six to eight times net earnings, or 1 to 2 times gross revenues.

That would put the price of the Scene anywhere from $3 million to upwards of $5 million, if one were basing the price only on the Scene’s 1995 year of operations.

Meanwhile, a local analyst familiar with the Scene who asked not to be identified said he thought the paper is worth $5 million to $6 million “as long as Bruce and Albie agree to continue working there.” Without them, the analyst said, the paper would be worth less, but still more than $2.5 million. One reason for the low price, the analyst explained, is that Del Favero and Dobie threatened to quit the paper if the deal didn’t go through. Even so, the analyst said, the sale earned the stockholders an annual return of approximately 17 percent on their 7-year-old investment. Del Favero said the 17-percent figure, although low, is “approximately correct.”

Neither the publisher nor the editor would say if either man owns a controlling interest in the paper or if one can fire the other. Both said the direction of the paper will not change.

Del Favero said he won’t try to increase circulation or acquire other papers “until we get the debt paid down.” Both owners said they are personally liable for a portion of the company’s debt, but they refused to give specific figures.

In the Scene’s early years, a brasher, younger Dobie enjoyed needling the city’s business and community leaders by referring to them in print as “biz pigs.” This week, the paper’s new co-owner, now a husband, father, and budding socialite, defended the secrecy surrounding the newspaper’s sale.

“I guess you could say that, as Albie and I grow to become biz pigs, we choose to act like biz pigs.”

Bombed out

Richard Jewell, the security cop suspected of planting the bomb at Centennial Olympic Park, may well be innocent. He’s not the anonymous 911 caller, according to news reports.

Although no one publicly named Jewell as a suspect, The Atlanta Journal-Constitution identified him in a special edition last Tuesday based on the word of a federal law enforcement source from Washington who spoke “on condition of anonymity” and said Jewell “looks good now” and is the “leading candidate.”

CNN followed immediately, citing the newspaper as its source. The next day, Jewell was on the front page of newspapers worldwide and was the star of an episode of Nightline. “ ‘Hero’ top suspect in park blast,” said the five-column headline in Wednesday’s Tennessean. After Sunday’s closing ceremonies, the story dropped to the back pages, where it will lie until the next suspect emerges.

“I was emphatic about not getting beat on this story,” an assistant editor at The Journal-Constitution told The New York Times, explaining why the Atlanta paper had taken the “unusual” step of naming Jewell based solely on reports from anonymous sources. The editor said rumors about Jewell were widespread among Atlanta police and she feared local television stations would report the story first, leaving the paper “sitting here with egg on our faces.”

Serious newspapers don’t usually publish the name of a criminal suspect unless the police have taken some formal action or at least identified the suspect on the record. When police find the real bomber, there may be plenty of editors with eggy faces.

Not all bomb stories make the news. Last week, phony bomb threats brought work to a halt at the unfinished Nashville arena and emptied two downtown hotels. The Tennessean, WKRN-Channel 2, and WTVF-Channel 5 reported the arena threat. No media, however, reported the subsequent threats against Union Station and the Renaissance Nashville Hotel.

Channel 2 aired the arena bomb threat in part because “Mayor Bredesen took it seriously enough to go to the arena and talk about the incident,” said news director Matthew Zelkind, adding that the decision was a “close call” and that the station does not normally broadcast bomb scares.

Tennessean editor Frank Sutherland said the staff decided to publish the arena story “because it was the first incident after Atlanta, it happened at a sports venue, and it blocked a major downtown street.” In light of the subsequent threats against downtown hotels, Sutherland is having second thoughts. “In retrospect, knowing what I know now, I might not have done it,” he said.

Meanwhile, the sergeant in charge at the Metro Bomb Squad said the unit has “stopped using the police radio” to discuss bomb threats so the media won’t learn about them.

Meanwhile, the sergeant in charge at the Metro Bomb Squad said the unit has “stopped using the police radio” to discuss bomb threats so the media won’t learn about them.

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