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In 2004, Shepherd did sell 21st Century Media to the Journal Register Company for $415 million. At the time, the company had earnings of about $36 million, making the sale about 11.5 times its Earnings Before Interest, Taxes, Depreciation and Amortization (EBITDA). Analysts say newspapers today are typically valued about three to five times their EBITDA.
"Immediately after the Journal Register bought The Oakland Press, we were able to do some hiring and ramp up a little. They were pouring fresh money in. They just purchased it, and they wanted to be competitive," former editor Garry Gilbert said. "We hired some news and sports people, but shortly after we had to face decisions on how to contract the size of the staff."
At the same time, Journal Register was starting to tinker with expanding the company's digital capabilities. In the newsroom at The Oakland Press, Garry Gilbert said nobody was yet sure how to approach digital offerings.
"Our reaction was that 'we don't really understand this digital platform, let's shovel our content into this digital and see what happens," he said. "Unfortunately, some innovative things were happening, like Craigslist and Facebook, which came from creative people that weren't in the media."
As websites like Craigslist started taking classified advertisers from traditional newspapers, the Oakland Press and others entering the digital fray began giving away online content for free.
"Most people probably agree that was a mistake," Gilbert said. "If content has value, if it's proprietary and accurate, and has value to the audience, they are willing to pay for it."
In 2006, Garry Gilbert ended up leaving The Oakland Press for Oakland University. He was replaced by Glenn Gilbert (no relation), who served as executive editor until 2014. About a month after Glenn Gilbert was hired, the paper fired managing editor Susan Hood, assistant managing editor Dolly Moiseeff, and editorial page editor Neil Munro. Together, the three editors had nearly a century of journalism experience.
"They wiped out the editorial history of the paper when they showed Neil Munro and several other key editors the door in a cost-cutting deal. They called them in and let them go in one day, and they had nobody left," Bill Thomas said. "Anyone with any historic journalism experience has left, except (local news editor) Julie Jacobson-Hines, and she's trying to keep The Titanic away from the iceberg."
Admittedly, such cost-cutting measures has left Thomas disenchanted and disillusioned with the newspaper industry today, which is one of the reasons that influenced his retirement after 40 years in the business....continued on page 13