Forbes on Tom Gores and the U-T

From the Forbes 400 issue I picked up last week:

Gores has his hands full with the San Diego Union-Tribune, which he bought in May for an estimated $30 million, based on current industry multiples. Three days after the deal closed, Platinum laid off 192 people; 112 additional cuts came in August. Gores saw no other way: The newspaper (average daily circulation: 300,000) had less than $10 million in EBITDA [earnings before taxes, depreciation, amortization] on revenue of less than $255 million, down from $100 million on revenue of roughly $360 million in 2005. “The outlook was for an unprofitable 2009,” says a Platinum spokesman.

What makes Gores think he can revive a near-dead enterprise? He likes the market. San Diego is still relatively affluent and culturally conservative; few denizens read the Los Angeles Times. He also prizes the assets — a 500,000 square-foot headquarters and warehouse in Mission Valley, plus 50,000 square feet of offices in La Jolla, San Marcos and Carlsbad.

But, oh, the challenges. The U-T was perhaps the last paper in the U.S. that relied on cut-and-paste layouts; Platinum has spent several million dollars on new publication software. To replace the loss of national advertisers, especially retailers and real estate firms, and classifieds, the paper is refocusing on small businesses. Gores has also updated the Web site with more social media, blogs and podcasts. He has reinstated 401(k) matching and reversed pay cuts by the previous owners, the Copley family. He expects a slight operating profit this year.

Gores plans to buy more distressed media companies. Lately his name has surfaced among potential buyers of the Boston Globe and BusinessWeek. Platinum’s response: “Don’t believe everything you read in the papers.”

For those keeping score at home, Gores is No. 147 with a $2.2 billion fortune.

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