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Judge Forces Newspaper Company to Admit Its Worth

Want to know how confused the newspaper industry is these days?

Look no further than the tangled struggle between the owners of the Daytona Beach News-Journal and its ownership partner, Cox Enterprises, Inc.

Saying News-Journal company president and CEO Herbert M. "Tippen" Davidson Jr. and his family hid their efforts in spending millions to support local arts projects, Cox officials sued the company, prompting officials there to seek to buy out their 47.5 percent stake. The problem: Cox wanted $145-million, while News-Journal officials, seeking to limit the financial hit, argued Cox's stake was worth $29-million.

It took a judge to force the Davidsons to up the value of their own company, ruling Friday that Cox's share would be valued at $129-million. The judge also criticized the Davidsons for spending millions to employ people at the News Journal who worked mostly on arts projects favored by the owners and overspending for the naming rights to a local performing arts center, among other things.

Just as Wall Street is walking away from the newspaper industry and media critics nationwide are writing its obituary, it remains striking that a newspaper family would argue in open court that its publication is worth so much less than some believe it is. It's a perfectly understandable legal strategy which couldn't come at a worse time.

Prest Comes to WTVT -- Where does that Leave WFLA?

Nerissa Prest, former weekend anchor at WFLA-Ch. 8, has landed at Tampa's Fox station, WTVT-Ch. 13. Viewers won't see her until next year, however, when her non-compete clause with WFLA ends and she can join the station's morning show, Good Day Tampa Bay as a co-anchor.

All of which raises anew an issue which continues to bedevil WFLA: on air diversity.

Prest, who is Asian American, left WFLA because she wanted a shot at a weekday job, and WFLA's lineup of weekday anchors hasn't changed substantially since Keith Cate and Stacie Schaible were hired in 2000. An African American weekend anchor, Byron Brown, left the station in 2003 when he realized a weekday job was too far in the future. Even freelancer Susan Casper -- an African American who once anchored at Bay News 9 and WTTA-Ch. 38 -- landed at WFTS-ch. 28 after a short stint at WFLA.

Currently, all of WFLA's black anchors work weekend shifts, while all of the station's weekday anchors are white people. The weekend crew is often seen during the week, filling in for vacationing anchors or helping during times of special coverage. But while competitors WTSP-Ch. 10, WFTS-Ch. 28 and now WTVT have diversified anchor lineups on their morning and afternoon broadcasts, WFLA remains stuck in the same minorities-on-weekends dynamic.

With long-tenured, well-watched anchors such as Bob Hite (29 years), Gayle Sierens (29 years) and Bill Ratliff (24 years), shifting anchor lineups to give newcomers a shot is difficult and risky. Still, competitors are offering weekday lineups which look more and more like the area's changing demographic profile, while WFLA in cotinuing to look like a, well, rerun.

While We're Talking Media Diversity...

A recent study by the University of Central Florida's DeVos Sports Business Management's Institute for Diversity and Ethics in Sport dicovered a "startling" lack of ethnic and gender diversity in newspaper sports departments nationwide.

But while the numbers in aggregate turned heads, identifying specific problem publications was not possible, because the institute agreed not to release embarrassing information on individual newspapers in exchange for getting detailed staffing information from sports departments at 303 newspapers nationwide.

At the St. Petersburg Times, just three African Americans were found among 33 reporters, editors and columnists. Factor in copyeditors and clerks/support staff, and our number remained at 10 percent for people of color and 18 percent for women.

It's been a open secret that sports departments have struggled with diversity issues, as a field of mostly white reporters and columnists have sometimes fumbled covering athletes of color excelling in the nation's most popular sports. Hopefully, these numbers -- and I suggest removing confidentiality provisions in future studies so thoe who are performing the worst can be identified and pushed to do more -- will encourage news outlets to reevaluate staffing and coverage schemes.

DEGGANS Pundit Alert! Hit Me Two Times...

I'll be appearing on WTVT at 12:25 p.m. today on Kathy Fountain's Your Turn talk segment to talk journalists and treason, jumping off the story I wrote for Sunday's Perspective section on the issue.

I'll also be appearing Thursday on Tampa Bay's Media Talk, a local radio show/webcast/podcast on area media isues hosted by the folks at Tampa Digital Studios.

Looks like the post-holiday rush is kicking in seriously...

[Last modified: Wednesday, July 21, 2010 2:36pm]


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