Tuesday, May 08, 2007

Could Anschutz's next Examiner be in L.A.?

This Help Wanted listing posted by Phil Anschutz's newspaper company, Clarity Media, seeks a "National Sales Manager, West Coast Region," who can choose where he or she will work -- San Francisco (where Clarity has two dailies), Denver (Anschutz's headquarters) or L.A.

Does that mean the billionaire oilman is planning to open one of his free Examiners in Los Angeles? Not necessarily. Anschutz has substantial holdings in L.A. and certainly a lot of ad agencies work out of that city, so perhaps basing a national sales manager there makes sense. Then again, Los Angeles was one of the 70 cities where Clarity registered the name Examiner in 2005.

Oddly enough, Hearst Corp. had an afternoon paper in Los Angeles called the Examiner that closed in 1989 -- so an Anschutz L.A. Examiner would have instant name recognition. Moreover, it would give Anschutz (seen here in sunglasses) a chance to influence the entertainment media, particularly the movie industry. He has been trying to do that for years by backing family-friendly movies such as "Ray," a profile of musician Ray Charles. Currently Anschutz is embroiled in an ugly lawsuit with author Clive Cussler over who is to blame for the movie flop "Sahara."

Covering L.A. with free newspapers would be an expensive undertaking because of the city's size — a sprawling 469 square miles. And Anschutz's people tend to favor the "commuter daily" format that is popular in places with a heavy amount of mass transit, such as Europe, New York, Boston, Philadelphia and Washington. Los Angeles, on the other hand, is a city devoted to its cars. Getting motorists out of their cars so that they pick up an Examiner would prove to be a challenge.

Then again, the competition is weak -- the the once mighty L.A. Times (building at left), now owned by Sam Zell, and L.A. Daily News, controlled by notorious cost-cutter Dean Singleton, are both in a downward spiral. A healthy L.A. Examiner could clean up. But whether famously liberal L.A. would go for a conservative publication is another question -- maybe there's enough Republicans there to make it workable? When the L.A. Times did a hit piece on Republican Arnold Schwartzenegger four days before he was elected governor, thousands of residents canceled their subscriptions.

It may also be that Anschutz is unwilling to open more newspapers until the existing ones make money. Remember all the talk two years ago about how Anschutz planned to open dailies in cities across the country? Anschutz hasn't opened a paper in a new city since April 2006 when the Baltimore Examiner hit the streets, bringing Clarity Media's momentum to a grinding halt. Even though Anschutz is a billionaire, he probably doesn't like to lose money more than anyone else.