May 8, 2015 Last Updated 8:53 am

Electoral tsunami has UK press looking for some answers; Tribune Publishing’s SoCal play

Morning Brief: UK papers and pollsters wake up to discover they got it all wrong, as the Tories retain control of 10 Downing Street, and Labour is wiped out in Scotland

The election results in the UK today may, in retrospect, appear all too predictable, but for now much of the press is dumbfounded by the utterly complete victory by the Tories. Polls right up until election day showed Labour and the Conservatives neck and neck, but this morning the Conservatives find themselves with a working majority, and even in a position to remain in power without having to bring in a partner.

While newspapers like The Guardian may be left scratching their heads wondering what happened, Rupert Murdoch can celebrate yet another triumph and possibly the resurrection of media expansion plans.


The real winner, besides Murdoch, the Tories and SNP, may be exit polling: the exit poll released at 10 local time last night was pretty dead on, even though most media and political pundits thought it off base.

Ball-tweet-434“So why have the exit polls tended to be so much more accurate than the pre-election polling?” asks Benjamin Lauderdale today in The Washington Post. “The biggest reason is that the exit poll simply has a better design than any pre-election poll can use. The exit poll is a panel design, where most of the polling stations that are exit polled are retained from the last election. This provides at pretty good solution to one of the fundamental difficulties of polling: that the sample you draw might be unrepresentative of the target population.”

Last night Tribune Publishing was able to announce the acquisition of the San Diego Union-Tribune, along with its associated community papers. The move extends the power of the company’s foothold in Southern California as it now owns the two most important papers in the region. In the middle is the Orange County Register, only a shadow of itself from its glory days when Orange County was still a fast growing home building market and when it was owned by Freedom Communications.

SDUT-front-TribAlso in the market are papers published by MediaNews Group such as the Long Beach Press-Telegram, Pasadena Star-News and Torrance Daily Breeze. At one time these papers were owned by newspaper companies now long gone: Knight-Ridder and Copley.

Then there is Daily News in the Valley, a paper that the Tribune Company once owned and called the Valley News and Green Sheet before realizing that it was hemmed in by the Times and selling the paper in 1985. (I was at Hearst’s Herald-Examiner at the time, but soon left to join Copley in Santa Monica.)

The thought is that these papers will be sold as part of a larger deal for Digital First Media, likely to a private equity company who will certainly want to see if they can sell them off piecemeal to make their profit.

Could Tribune Publishing be a buyer? It is difficult to see how it can handle its current debt load. This week the company announced earnings and it confirmed that it’s results will be impacted by rather large interest payments. But the Times, and now Union-Tribune’s, publisher is Austin Beutner, whose background is with the PE firm The Blackstone Group, and who co-founded Evercore Partners. As PEs rather look out beyond five years, it may be that this is all just a roll-up strategy and so one can not dismiss the idea of continued acquisitions. That strategy sometimes leads to a well-timed sell out and profits for the investors (and especially management), but it is also just as likely to lead to the kind of result we often see in B2B media or at companies like Digital First Media.

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