Private equity publicly disses newspapers

October 14, 2008

rtr1c8p7-1.jpgWhen it comes to newspapers, there’s nothing like the thrill of defeat. Scott Sperling, co-president of private equity firm Thomas H. Lee Partners, sounded anything but disappointed on stage Tuesday at the Dow Jones Media and Money conference when he told Wall Street Journal reporter Peter Lattman about dropping out of the bid for the Knight Ridder newspaper chain in 2006.

THL avoided the newspaper beat early on, Sperling said, after deciding that newspapers were just too expensive. “We looked at Knight Ridder more recently,” he said. “But we weren’t able to approach the price.”

So what does he think of the amazing advertising revenue plunge that has smacked newspaper publishers silly since then? “I would have predicted a lesser decline than what we’ve seen… We were probably too kind in our assessment of the industry three years ago.”

To drive home the point, Sperling told Lattman about reading the Journal on its website.

Lattman: You read the hard copy too, I hope?

Sperling: [pause] Sometimes.

[cue audience laughter]

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