In the wake of today's announcement that billionaire Warren Buffett is buying his hometown daily, the Omaha World-Herald, another Nebraskan, our political cartoonist Neal Obermeyer, weighs in below with a comparison of that paper and the Union-Tribune, soon to be owned by La Jolla's Doug Manchester:
The Omaha World Herald and The San Diego Union-Tribune have long lived parallel lives. Both have proud histories of local ownership; like the Union-Tribune’s Copley heritage, the World-Herald was owned by a succession of prominent Omaha families until transferring ownership to the paper’s employees in 1979.
Both have traditionally been notably business-friendly in their news coverage, and their editorial pages are virtually identical (staff cartoonists Jeff Koterba and Steve Breen, respectively, routinely appear as syndicated guests on each other’s turf).
The parallel existence of these papers continued when the news broke this morning that Omaha billionaire Warren Buffett’s Berkshire Hathaway would be purchasing the World-Herald, not two full weeks after San Diego hotelier and developer Doug Manchester purchased the Union-Tribune.
Like Manchester’s purchase, Berkshire’s new paper comes with some valuable real estate. Joel Long, director of communications at the World-Herald, confirmed that the sale includes all of the Omaha World Herald company’s property.
The paper’s downtown Omaha footprint, including its office building, the adjacent World-Herald square, and the Freedom Center printing press, is valued at more than $55 million.
Unlike the Union-Tribune, however, the World-Herald’s new ownership plans to leave no obvious fingerprints on the paper’s content and operations.
Whereas new Manchester-appointed Union-Tribune president and CEO John Lynch notoriously told Voice of San Diego that he wants the paper to be a cheerleader for a new Chargers stadium and a chastiser of critics, which aligns with Manchester’s business interests, Buffett told the World-Herald that the paper’s management would stay in place, and he would not get involved in editorial decisions.
As with many newspapers, recent years haven’t been kind to the World-Herald, but the paper had not been plagued with financial difficulties on the scale of The Union-Tribune’s.
CEO Terry Kroeger said in a press release that ongoing obligations to reacquire shares from departing employees had become financially restrictive, and the company has undergone several rounds of layoffs and buyouts in recent years, but there have been no questions about the paper’s future, rumors of shutting down or speculation about panicked sales at insulting discounts.
The World-Herald reports the sale price is near $150 million.
Washington Post columnist Steven Pearlstein dismissed Buffett’s purchase as a meaningless, “emotional, personal buy” to media commentator Jim Romenesko today.
In a meeting this morning with World-Herald employees, Buffett didn’t deny the sentimental attachment, but he also emphasized the strength of the investment. “The World-Herald delivers solid profits and is one of the best-run papers in America,” Buffett said in a press release.
Buffett has experience with newspapers; he previously owned The Omaha Sun, which published from 1951 to 1983. The staff won a Pulitzer Prize for Local Investigative Specialized Reporting in 1973, uncovering the large financial resources of a local charity.
His parents met while working at The Daily Nebraskan, the University of Nebraska-Lincoln student newspaper.