NEWSPAPER EXECS EXPRESS SOME OPTIMISM AT MID-YEAR REVIEW

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(June 19, 2001) -- What passed for good news today at the Mid-Year Media Review in New York were newspaper companies such as Tribune Co. telling attendees that the decline in revenues was slowing, or that -- perhaps -- there were glimpses of a bottom.

Tribune Co.'s presentation compared the steep drop-off in classified ad revenue to the fall-off in the last protracted downturn for the industry, from 1990-1992, and the two declines a decade apart charted a roughly similar course.

Other executives disagreed that 2001 is looking like '91.

"Ten years ago it was a gradual decline over three years," said W. Dean Singleton, CEO of privately held Media News Group. "This year the decline [came] much, much faster -- in three months."

True, but, as onlookers pointed out, the overall economy -- and indicators like consumer confidence and unemployment -- is in much better shape. There's even some dissonance within some newspaper companies results, as analysts spoke of how well real estate classifieds are holding up.

Nonetheless, presentations were marked by attempts to run out the clock without delving too deeply into poor results.

"I think this [conference] may be renamed the 'Grasping At Straws,'" fumed Sandler Capital analyst John Kornreich during a question-and-answer session with Tribune Co. executives. -- Jon Fine

Copyright June 2001, Crain Communications Inc.

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