Uh, How's That Again?

Apr 8, 2009 at 3:16 pm

Rich Boehne must be a glutton for punishment.

A former reporter at The Cincinnati Post and The Cincinnati Enquirer, Boehne rose through the ranks at The E.W. Scripps Co., The Post’s parent firm and joined its corporate staff in 1988 as the first investor relations manager. Since then, he’s held a number of positions in the company.—-

But Boehne’s toughest assignment probably came last summer when the firm split into two companies, with its profitable cable TV networks like HGTV and the Food Network, along with its Internet search businesses, becoming Scripps Networks Interactive. That left E.W. Scripps with the more traditional newspaper and broadcast TV stations, where Boehne became president and CEO.

As most everyone knows, the newspaper industry is facing tough times with advertising dollars and stock prices both plunging, and is scrambling to devise a more profitable business model. Many people would say assuming control of any company that focuses on print publications in the current climate is a fool’s errand, so Boehne is to be given credit for at least trying.

Still, a comment Boehne made while giving a speech about new media opportunities at the March 25 Bold Fusion young professionals forum seems at odds with Scripps’ recent past.

Discussing the history of the Cincinnati-based E.W. Scripps, Boehne told the crowd, “We’ve been around 130 years and we intend to be around another 130 years.”

If so, one wonders whether newspapers will be part of the company’s mix. In the past two decades, Scripps has closed at least eight of its newspapers. They include The Cincinnati Post in late 2007, of course, as well as The Columbus Citizen-Journal (1985), The Pittsburgh Press (1992), The Birmingham Post-Herald (2005) and the Rocky Mountain News (in February), among others.

That leaves the once-proud newspaper company with about 25 newspapers left nationwide. The largest, The Commercial Appeal in Memphis, Tenn., has a daily circulation of 145,800.

Despite the declining number, in 2007 E.W. Scripps reported $1.1 billion in revenue. About 62 percent came from newspapers, more than double the 30 percent derived from local TV stations and the Internet sites. It will be interesting to see what those figures look like a year from now.

During Bold Fusion, Boehne said, “This is without question the most exciting time for all of us who work in the media industry.”

Or the most depressing.