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"I keep telling people in my business, the way that you grow is that you start with readership. You start basically with the editorial side. You have to create a readership vehicle, and from that you sell circulation, and from that circulation you sell advertising," McIntyre said. "You can't do it in reverse. You can't avoid it. You can't get around it. You have to start with a product that people want to read, because if they don't, forget the rest of it.
"So, of course if you demolish the editorial side of the business, what do you expect?"
Bill Thomas, who was made executive editor of The Oakland Press in 1985, said he believes the beginnings of the paper's decline started about 1996, after the Walt Disney Company purchased CapCities/ABC for $19 billion. At the time, the purchase gave Disney an important distribution outlet for its programs through ABC's broadcast holdings.
"Disney didn't really want newspapers. (Disney CEO) Michael Eisner hated newspapers, and it was clear that he didn't want to soil his hands with the ink-stained wretches," Thomas said. "That was the beginning of the end of The Oakland Press, and what we had built into a phenomenal paper."
The following year, Disney sold its papers to Knight Ridder, which at the time owned the Detroit Free Press and was unable to acquire The Oakland Press.
Meanwhile, Frank Shepherd was wrapping up his work for Stauffer Communications in Topeka, Kansas, where he had increased increased profits of that family's papers to sell to Morris Communications. With a successful track record of increasing profits and flipping the holdings, Shepherd sprung at the opportunity to purchase The Oakland Press and develop a cluster of papers in his home state of Michigan.
"I called Disney and tried to talk to the CFO, Thomas Staggs," Shepherd said. "I talked to his assistant because he was out to lunch, and I told her I wanted to buy the paper. He called me back and said, 'I understand you want to buy The Oakland Press.' I said, 'Yes.' Staggs said, 'You and another 1,000 people. Get in line.'"
Playing his Michigan roots, Shepherd said he was able to bond with another executive who told him he vacationed in Traverse City. In the summer of 1997, Shepherd purchased The Oakland Press for $110 million. The deal, he said, also included the Lapeer County Press, "which was one of the nicest weeklies in Michigan." The sale also included a group of five other weekly newspapers in the southeastern area of Michigan's thumb region, with weekly circulations totaling about 59,000....continued on page 10