Watchdog: Newsday buyback is good news

Back in the fold: Control of Long Island's primary newspaper is returning to the Dolan family.

The international horse-trading that landed Long Island’s primary newspaper back in domestic hands is a horse of another color for a staunch opponent of the recent Cablevision Systems Corp. sale.

Jaci Clement, CEO and executive director of the Bethpage-based Fair Media Council, applauded Thursday’s announcement that a group led by News 12 Networks President Pat Dolan is buying back a majority stake in the Newsday Media Group.

The primary property of the group, the regional daily newspaper Newsday, was inherited by Netherlands telecom kingpin Altice as part of its $17.7 billion acquisition of Bethpage-based Cablevision, which closed two weeks ago. Now, Newsday is back in the hands of the Dolan family – a “really good development,” according to Clement.

Jaci Clement: As local as local news gets.

Jaci Clement: As local as local news gets.

“This is someone who cares about local news,” she said of Newsday’s old-and-new majority owner. “That’s something we weren’t going to get with Altice in control.”

Cablevision owned Newsday Media Group – which includes the titular newspaper, the free New York City daily amNew York and a host of regional shoppers published under the Star Community Publishing banner – since purchasing it from Tribune Co. for $650 million in 2008.

Altice – which paid the Dolans $10 billion cash for Cablevision, in addition to assuming billions in existing debt – will keep a 25 percent interest in Newsday Media Group. Former Cablevision Chairman Charles Dolan will serve on the group’s board and take a small financial interest in the company.

News 12, where Pat Dolan will remain president, stays with Altice, which has already consolidated its Cablevision operations with operations at Missouri-based Suddenlink Communications – which Altice acquired for $9.1 billion in December – to form Altice USA.

AMC Networks, MSG Networks Inc. and the Madison Square Garden Co. – including the National Basketball Association’s New York Knicks and the National Hockey League’s New York Rangers – were not part of the original Altice deal and remain with the Dolan family.

Pat Dolan: News 12 boss takes over Newsday Media Group.

Pat Dolan: News 12 boss takes over Newsday Media Group.

In additional to remaining News 12 president, Pat Dolan will now become president of Newsday Media Group. He could not immediately be reached for comment Thursday.

Clement, who has been a vocal critic of the Cablevision-Altice deal, acknowledged that the return of Newsday and the Star Community Publishing print products to Dolan family control addresses another of her primary concerns with the international acquisition.

As part of the New York Public Service Commission’s conditional approval of the deal, Altice agreed to embargo layoffs of “customer-facing employees” for four years and to launch a storm-resiliency initiative for Long Island, answering two of Clement’s biggest questions. Now, with Newsday back under the control of a New York media family that published the newspaper for eight-plus years, Clement feels a little better about regional news coverage – though “there’s still a lot to watch on the Cablevision front and what happens there.”

It’s also worth watching Newsday, Clement added, now that the daily – founded as the Hempstead-based Nassau County Journal in 1939 by T. Harold Forbes – is out from under Cablevision’s debt-heavy shadow.

“I imagine the first thing they’ll do is take a hard look at their finances separated out from Cablevision,” Clement said, noting opportunities for Dolan and Co. to assemble “a star sales staff” and to “develop into a real multimedia voice, as opposed to a newspaper with a website.”

Clement, who is also CEO of boutique communications firm Great Legs Media, referenced a recent multimedia package – including print reports and online coverage featuring videos and digital graphics – Newsday produced to mark the fifth anniversary of the beginning of the investigation into the still-unsolved Gilgo Beach murders.

“That showed a lot of promise,” Clement told Innovate LI. “That’s the direction they should think about going.

“Cable is an outdated technology,” she added. “My hope is if Newsday is no longer tied to Cablevision, maybe it will be a big benefit for them.”

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