Lee Enterprises gets stronger with purchase of Warren Buffett’s chain, but Alden vultures lurk

From the United Media Guild’s perspective, a newspaper’s best outcome is to find a buyer committed to supporting strong local journalism for the public good.

But these days a newspaper is more likely to get caught up the consolation of major chains, a trend that has led to constant cost-cutting and endless layoffs.

Of the chains remaining, Lee Enterprises seems the most interested in running good newspapers.  And Lee’s purchase of Warren Buffett’s newspaper chain makes it stronger,  since it included a favorable financing deal with Buffett’s Berkshire Hathaway firm. It was the natural progression from the external management agreement Lee struck earlier.

The UMG was sad to see Buffett give up on newspapers, since he can certainly afford to operate them for the public good. Why wouldn’t he do that, especially in his home base of Omaha?

But at least he sought a softer landing for the Omaha World Herald, Buffalo News and other excellent papers in his chain. There are worse operators looking to buy.

While the United Media Guild has had some tough battles with Lee over the years, we have reached mutual understandings on how to proceed amid declining revenues in the industry.

On the down side, the Guild was not happy to see Alden Global Capital gain a 5.9 percent share of Lee stock. This could be the first step in a hostile takeover bid by Alden, a vulture capital firm that has gutted once-great newspapers like the Denver Post and San Jose Mercury News funneled the money to other ventures.

Previously Alden made a bid for Gannett, which Guild opposed. Gannett later merged with New Media Investment Group. More recently Alden has made a stock play with the Tribune Co., which the Guild has also opposed.

The Guild will support Lee’s efforts to fend off Alden. But in the meantime, if you know somebody who wants to buy a newspaper and run it for the betterment of the community . . .