Freedom chairman shares goals after bankruptcy

By Mary Ann Milbourne: Freedom News Service

James D. Dunning Jr. is the new chairman of Irvine, California-based Freedom Communications Inc., owner of the Clovis News Journal, Portales News-Tribune and Quay County Sun.

He brings broad media experience ranging from being former president and chief financial officer of Rolling Stone to chief executive of Ziff Davis Publishing Co., a digital media company.

In an interview with The Orange County (Calif.) Register after the company came out of bankruptcy, he said he saw opportunity ahead for the company as it sets about developing a business model that will succeed in today’s media environment.

Q. Some have suggested Freedom is ripe to be split up and its 28 daily newspapers, more than 70 weekly and specialty publications and eight television stations sold off. What do you see?

A. “We’re developing a near- and long-term strategy. Freedom is different and very unique because it brings broadcast, a metro market (newspaper) and community (newspapers) and a developed Internet business, so it’s not starting from scratch. … I see us making acquisitions and making them successfully, but we want to make sure the talent is on board to do it effectively.”

Q. Many newspapers have had layoffs once they emerged from bankruptcy? What do you foresee for Freedom?

A. “Our first task is right-sizing the organization for the business of the future. I don’t mean lean and mean, but right-sized for the issues of running the business in the future. We are in a talent evaluation mode. To do what we need to do, we’re going to find talent at all levels of the company. … I see it as a place of opportunity and a place I think people will want to work.”

Q. What changes do you see in the business?

A. “I want to focus on being the biggest, best local provider of what I call the three ‘Cs’ — content, community and circulation. We’re going to capture the local share of the ad market and not just be victims of trends. We will be platform agnostic. Our leverage and advantage is that we have newspapers. I want us to be great and a winner in our space.”

Q. The newspaper business is supposed to be a dying industry. Why come to Freedom, which exits bankruptcy still owing $325 million in debt, the highest debt of any newspaper company that recently has come out of reorganization?

A. “My first question was the debt ratio — could we handle it? But it’s not baggage and it’s not too much debt. I’m confident with the capital structure in emergence (from bankruptcy). I’m seeing a whole lot of good things. We are profitable everywhere.”