Digital First Media tapped some of the most prominent Internet evangelists to help it figure out how to make the transition from a publisher of declining traditional newspapers to a thriving online power. But it looks like it couldn’t crack the code: The No. 2 (by circulation) newspaper company — whose properties include the Los Angeles Daily News, San Jose Mercury News, Denver Post, St. Paul Pioneer Press and the New Haven Register — hung up the “for sale” sign today. It says that it hired UBS Securities and law firm Hughes Hubbard & Reed to help the board “evaluate and consider strategic alternatives for the Company’s business.”
“The news information industry in America is undergoing a period of seismic change, defined by the need to consolidate to rapidly compete in a digital world,” CEO John Paton says. “The companies that will succeed are those which have meaningful scale and digital expertise.” Digital First was formed in December, when MediaNews Group and the Journal Register Company merged. It’s controlled by a hedge fund, Alden Global Capital.
Today’s announcement was foreshadowed in April, when Digital First shuttered Project Thunderdome: It created a centralized national news desk for the 75 of the chain’s publications, enabling each to focus on local news. In January the company announced Project Unbolt, which Paton said would reimagine “every aspect of the newsgathering and publishing process. Despite the continued existence of print, our workflow and our technology are digital only, not just Digital First.”
Internet crusaders on the Digital First Advisory Board include writer Clay Shirky, Columbia University’s Emily Bell, New York University’s Jay Rosen, and City University of New York’s Jeff Jarvis. “Digital First’s hedge-fund owners are doing what hedge funds do,” Jarvis said in a tweet. He added that the company is “worth a lot more than it was thanks to its digital first strategy and so now comes the next phase.”