On Our Radar: Deals we are paying attention to for their impact on industry.
American Media Inc. (AMI), owner of the scandal-ridden National Enquirer, Globe, and the National Examiner, has put the controversial tabloids up for sale. A handful of potential buyers have been mentioned, although the most prominent reported to be in serious talks now says he’s not interested.
On Thursday, The New York Times reported AMI was in serious talks with billionaire Ronald W. Burkle, who specializes in acquiring distressed companies. However, later that night, a spokesman for Burkle’s investment firm told both the Washington Post and the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review it was not in talks to buy the troubled tabloids.
The Times stands by its report, while others have suggested that AMI floated Burkle’s potential interest hoping to encourage more conservative firms to consider the purchase. Potential buyers would also presumably acquire the Enquirer’s archive of unique materials and access to its cache of stories it previously bought to prevent them from being reported elsewhere.
The only other buyer whom The New York Post says has publicly admitted his acquisition interest is Paul Pope, son of the Enquirer’s founder Generoso Pope Jr., whom The Post reports has wanted to regain control of the media entity ever since the Pope estate sold it in 1989 for $412.5 million.
Other names mentioned as potential buyers include Hudson News CEO James Cohen and Amazon CEO and Post owner Jeff Bezos, the latter of whom accused the Enquirer in February of an “extortion and blackmail” attempt over the publication of nude selfies.A source close to AMI has called the Bezos speculation “idiotic.”
Media watchers such as Columbia Journalism Review are urging caution to buyers who believe a purchase will catapult them to the center of national politics. “The Enquirer’s centrality to our politics has been a fleeting historical quirk,” CJR’s Jon Alsop wrote, warning potential buyers not to overlook the tabloids’ troubling financial issues. Bloomberg reports the Enquirer’s circulation fell to 364,000 in March 2014, from 516,000 in March 2016. In 2018, the Enquirer averaged 244,000 copies, according to the Alliance for Audited Media.
After famously endorsing Donald Trump, Hillary Clinton’s opponent, in the 2016 presidential campaign, the money-losing Enquirer attracted the attention of federal prosecutors investigating reports that it paid $150,000 to bury a story about an affair that could have damaged Trump before the election. The investigation led AMI’s principal owner, Chatham Asset Management, to pressure CEO David Pecker to sell. The scandal, combined with a steady decline in newsstand sales and the refinancing of some $460 million in debt, has provided further motivation to divest the company.
AMI was acquired in 2014 by Chatham and Omega Charitable Partnership. The group also owns more than a dozen magazines, including Us Weekly, Men's Journal, In Touch Weekly and Life & Style.
Frances Katz is a freelance writer focusing on media, culture and technology. Her work has appeared in The Atlantic, The Week, The Washington Post, USA Today and other publications. She lives in Atlanta.