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Cox Sells Waco Trib to Local Family

Discussion in 'Journalism topics only' started by Armchair_QB, Jul 16, 2009.

  1. Armchair_QB

    Armchair_QB Well-Known Member


    Robinsons to buy Waco Tribune-Herald

    By Carlos Sanchez Tribune-Herald editor
    Thursday, July 16, 2009

    For the first time since 1976, the Waco Tribune-Herald will be locally owned under an agreement announced Wednesday that gives control of the 117-year-old newspaper to civic leader and businessman Clifton Robinson and his son, Gordon.

    The Robinsons will buy the newspaper from Atlanta-based Cox Enterprises for an undisclosed amount, both parties said. The deal is scheduled to close at a later, undisclosed date.

    “I’m on fire about this,” Clifton Robinson, 71, said this week, adding that the purchase of the Trib fulfills a 25-year-old dream of owning a local newspaper. “I think it’s going to be fun.”

    Robinson also announced that retired Trib publisher Dan Savage will be appointed interim publisher. Current Trib publisher Belinda Gaudet will retire, Cox officials said. Robinson plans to keep all other current employees, Doug Franklin, executive vice president of Cox Media Group, said in a memo released Wednesday.

    The Trib will be officially owned by Robinson Media Co. LLC. Robinson will be chairman and chief executive officer, while Gordon Robinson, 45, will be president of the newly formed media company.

    “I think the Trib is the greatest news-gathering facility that there is, and it holds the greatest opportunity going forward,” Robinson said.

    He and his son said the focus of the newspaper will be local. Both said they plan on hosting meetings with local experts from a variety of fields to get community feedback about the type of coverage that would resonate in Central Texas.

    “We understand that local is our best market,” Gordon Robinson said. “We want to try to increase the content on what we gather locally.”

    Clifton Robinson echoed those sentiments, saying, “We’ve invested in Wall Street. Now we want to invest in our community.”

    Cox announced last August that it was selling all 10 of its Texas, North Carolina and Colorado newspapers and several smaller publications in a move aimed at adjusting its overall business portfolio and paying down debt, then-CEO Jim Kennedy said last summer.

    The agreement reached by the Robinsons and Cox applies only to the Waco property. Two other Cox Texas properties – the Lufkin Daily News and the Nacogdoches Daily Sentinel – were sold earlier this year to Houston-based Southern Newspapers Inc.

    Robinson is a Waco native whose family has been in the Waco area since the Civil War, he said. His name has long been associated with local philanthropy and the insurance industry.

    “I looked into starting a newspaper 25 years ago,” he said. “But it cost too much.”

    Robinson buys the newspaper during one of the industry’s most challenging times. In addition to the effect the nation’s ongoing recession has had on advertising, the Trib has been contending with changing readership habits that have dramatically increased its online readership at the cost of its more profitable print readership.

    But Robinson said he is excited about the business challenge that he and his son face with the Trib. “The support from newspaper industry executives from across the country has already been phenomenal,” Robinson said.

    Gordon Robinson believes the family’s deep community ties should help. “We’re fortunate and blessed with our knowledge of this community,” he said. “We believe we can bring some benefit to the community newspaper concept.”

    In 2007, Robinson sold National Lloyds Insurance Co. and American Summit Insurance Co. to a Colorado firm. But he and Gordon Robinson remained affiliated with the companies.

    National Lloyds Insurance has been based in Waco since 1964, when Robinson relocated the company from San Antonio after he bought it. Robinson later sold the company before reacquiring it in 2001. Most of his career has been spent in the formation, acquisition and management of various insurance companies, according to a profile of him by forbes.com.

    Community involvement

    Robinson has also been a visible booster of Waco, Baylor University and McLennan Community College. He graduated from Baylor in 1963. He and his wife, Betsy, provide scholarships to underprivileged students through the Honors Program at Baylor and through the MAC Grant program at MCC.

    In 2003, he created Friends of Baylor, which donated $1 million to the school at a time of significant campus turmoil emanating from a scandal involving the school’s men’s basketball program.

    Much of the controversy extended to Baylor’s president at the time, Robert B. Sloan Jr., whom Robinson defended. At the time, Robinson was also vocally critical of the media coverage of this controversy, including much of the Trib’s coverage.

    Asked if, as owner of the Trib, Baylor coverage would be toned down at all, Robinson said: “There will be very positive coverage of Baylor University. But there will also be negative coverage if there deserves to be negative coverage.”

    Robinson also has been an active civic booster who, with his son, once offered to help finance a four-star hotel on the shores of the Brazos River in Waco in an effort to boost the city’s chances of being chosen as the venue for the George W. Bush presidential library.

    Bush and his wife eventually chose Southern Methodist University in Dallas as the site for his library.

    Beyond Clifton Robinson Tower, a gift to Baylor, which looms over Interstate 35, Robinson’s most visible sign of charitable giving was unveiled in February near the Waco Suspension Bridge.

    Called “Branding the Brazos,” the gift is an oversized bronzed sculpture that commemorates Waco’s heritage as being part of the historic Chisholm Trail.

    Several more bronze pieces detailing cowboys herding longhorn cattle are still be sculpted as part of the commemorative and will be located along the Brazos River. They include a black cowboy as well as a Hispanic cowboy.

    Gordon Robinson also attended Baylor and began his insurance career in 1983. He served as co-chairman of NLASCO, an insurance holding company, when the company was formed in 2000.

    Gordon Robinson also heads Specialty Property, Ltd., which was formed for acquiring real estate. He and his wife, Valerie, have four children.

    Clifton Robinson’s other son, Charles, is a graduate of Southwest Texas State University and is active in their real estate business. He has one daughter.

    Clifton Robinson’s wife, Betsy, also plays a large civic role and is best known for her efforts in founding and volunteering for Fuzzy Friends, a no-kill animal rescue center in Waco. Her efforts brought her national attention last month when she received the Jefferson Award, which recognizes civic volunteerism across the country.

    Past Trib owners

    Cox bought the Trib in 1976 from Harlon Fentress, who ran Newspapers Inc., a chain of Texas-based newspapers that was based in Waco.

    Fentress inherited the chain from his father, E.S. Fentress, who, with fellow Iowan Charles E. Marsh, bought the Waco Morning News in 1917. The partners later bought a semiweekly called the Waco Tribune and named their combined newspaper the Waco News-Tribune.

    In 1927, Fentress bought out the competing Waco Times-Herald, which operated independently as an afternoon newspaper until 1981.

    Harlon Fentress renamed the morning, evening and weekend papers the Waco Tribune-Herald in 1973.

    Today, the Tribune-Herald has a daily readership of more than 100,000 people, and its Web site, wacotrib.com, enjoys more than 10 million monthly page views.
  2. deskslave

    deskslave Active Member

    This guy doesn't appear to have any idea how to run a newspaper. He just thinks it would be neat.

    Cox also sold The Daily Sentinel of Grand Junction, Colo., to the Seaton Publishing Company, which will create a subsidiary for it. Seaton owns a few other papers, none bigger than about 11,000 circulation. Grand Junction's been around 30,000, though that's falling as the circulation area has been dramatically scaled back. Seaton has promised to keep all employees, which has to be promising.



    Cox had apparently already sold its papers in Lufkin and Nacogdoches, Texas.
  3. Raisin Ham

    Raisin Ham Member

    So they'll fit right in with the current crop of idiots around the country who own large chains.
  4. Football_Bat

    Football_Bat Well-Known Member

    So does this mean they'll restart their own presses and hire their mailroom workers back?

    Getting Cox and that brainiac Gaudet out of the picture is a plus, on its face. The new guy may be a newspaper newbie, but he's a business fixture in Waco.
  5. MileHigh

    MileHigh Moderator Staff Member

    At least these papers got bought, especially in Grand Junction. As opposed to another Colorado newspaper.
  6. Flip Wilson

    Flip Wilson Well-Known Member

    The new owner may be a newbie, but the retired publisher he's bringing back -- at least on an interim basis -- knows his stuff.
  7. Agreed. The staff is no worse off than it was under Cox, and the potential upside is so much better. Waco is a good market, and local -- which translates to HS and the Big 12 for sports -- can sell there.

    I think this is what many of us hope to see, local ownership rising up to buy newspapers away from the chains, while there is still something worth salvaging.
  8. J-School Blue

    J-School Blue Member

    In a way, this is the most encouraging news I've seen on the j-business front in awhile.

    I suspect everyone who works in a newsroom would be much better off if companies like Gannett and Tribune Co. die the deaths they so richly deserve to die, and the ownership model returns to locals and families for these small papers.

    The process of this happening would be horrible and painful, of course. But I've reached a "burn the fields so they can be planted again" mentality about the state of things.
  9. Gomer

    Gomer Active Member

    WFW J-School. Exactly the way I feel about the industry. There's more darkness before it happens large scale, but local ownership is the light at the end of my personal hell tunnel.

    They're less worried about profit margins and more likely to accept a smaller profit in tough times. Because this guy's a local businessman he's less likely to hack and slash away the people who create the content.
  10. podunk press

    podunk press Active Member

    I'll say this:

    I've worked for a family-owned community daily. I got salary bumps and worked on a new Mac.

    I've worked for a chain. I think my computer was older than the high schoolers I interviewed.
  11. Den1983

    Den1983 Active Member

    I would definitely be breathing easier if I was on staff there. Waco is a nice sports town and this is good news.
  12. Armchair_QB

    Armchair_QB Well-Known Member

    That was my thought when I heard this was going to happen. I'd like to think it signals what could become a positive trend. This is definitely good news for those who are still on staff at the Trib.
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