Q: You and some investment partners put about $1 million into shares of A.H. Belo Corp., despite Belo’s ongoing massive layoffs, cascading revenues, and a sliding stock price. People think you’re crazy?
A: Maybe. But I think that in a growing, thriving democracy, the need for timely, valuable information—i.e., news—will continue to exist. So, this idea that newspapers will be relegated to the trash bin of history along with eight-tracks and buggy whips, I don’t see that. I’m trying to give you some fun quotes here.
Q: Hey, thanks. So, will you give me a quote that says, “I bought about 7 percent of A.H. Belo stock because I want to own the Dallas Morning News?”
A: [Long, awkward pause.] Sorry, I just ate some Big Mac there. I’m driving away from Riverside, California, and just left my favorite restaurant—McDonald’s. I probably eat there four to five times a week. I got a Big Mac and a Dr Pepper.
Q: They sell Dr Pepper in Riverside?
A: Yeah. Usually, when I leave Texas I have to make provisions to find Dr Pepper. When I was up in Providence last week, they had Diet Dr Pepper everywhere but no regular Dr Pepper. If you’re real astute, you probably realize why I have been in Providence, Rhode Island, and then Riverside, California.
Q: A.H. Belo’s two other papers are in those cities. Perhaps you’re looking to buy something there besides a Dr Pepper?
A: No. We are passive investors in A.H. Belo. We wanted to take over the Rocky Mountain News, and there are certainly other papers we’d like to take over. But there are investments and then there are acquisition targets. In A.H. Belo, we’re just investors. A.H. Belo is family owned and controlled, and it will be for a long time to come. They’re not going to sell this thing.
Q: Then why would you and your investors—none are from Dallas—buy into A.H. Belo at all?
A: We just thought for us, for our risk tolerance, Belo was a good investment. I’m personally a phenomenally conservative investor. I don’t have any debt whatsoever. Belo doesn’t have much debt, either—only has a few million dollars of debt, which is one of the reasons I like it. Still, I would not tell my mother or sister or grandmother to go buy Belo’s stock. There’s a huge amount of risk here.
Q: Despite the risk, you’re sure you want to own a newspaper someday?
A: If you told me I would be paid $50,000 a year, plus some ramen noodles, and I had to sleep on a cot in the pressroom in exchange for being the publisher of a decent paper, I’d do it in a heartbeat.
Q: Denver lost a daily. Boston has been on the brink of losing one. San Francisco, too. Do you think Dallas’ daily is safe?
A: From what I’ve learned visiting the Belo papers over the past few months, the answer in Dallas is, yes, you will continue to have a paper. I think [CEO] Robert Decherd is a newspaper person, committed to journalism, and to making these papers work. That may make me sound like a big flack for management. But I’m not. There are a lot of other newspaper companies whose stock is cheaper than Belo, and I haven’t put a dime in them because they’ve got a bunch of idiots running them. How’s that for a quote?