Lee Enterprises is the name of the Iowa-based national media company that owns the St. Louis Post-Dispatch. Lee, a well-run company whose other major newspaper holdings are in small cities and large towns in fast-growing suburban areas, purchased the holdings of Pulitzer Corporation last year. That acquisition included Pulitzer’s flagship publication, the St. Louis Post-Dispatch.
From the outside looking in, the Pulitzer purchase seems not to have given Lee much of a boost in either cash or cachet. The P-D’s moribund ad revenue growth and the debt incurred by the Pulitzer purchase have been dragging at Lee’s bottom line and stock price for the past year, despite significant staff cuts and some new top managers here. And the P-D’s spotty and often inaccurate coverage of local, state, national, and international news has made opening the hometown newspaper a chore fewer and fewer St. Louisans are willing to face each morning.
I doubt that this bad news has escaped the attention of the Lee bosses back in Davenport - and I further doubt that they will leave the situation unaddressed for very long. Other media companies in the same situation recently have either added significantly more financial and journalistic resources to fight for a better local market share; or they have spun off their major metropolitan dailies to local investors, to employee groups, or to foundations.
If Lee chooses to sell, not invest, St. Louis has plenty of savvy new and old media entrepreneurs (Roberts, Koplar, Kent, Steward, Sherberg, Cohen, Suggs, Vittert, Franklin); a cadre of knowledgeable current P-D employees and wealthy former Pulitzer shareholders; and some strong local foundations.
The St. Louis Post-Dispatch is a major downtown - and regional - employer. The paper’s current struggling fiscal health and demoralized voice are drags on our own civic renaissance.
I will be watching this closely.