- The Washington Times - Wednesday, October 25, 2006

BOSTON (AP) — A group of local investors including Jack Welch, retired General Electric Co. chief executive officer, and advertising executive Jack Connors is exploring a possible bid to buy the Boston Globe from the New York Times Co.

Mr. Connors confirmed the group’s interest yesterday in response to media reports about a potential bid, but he said talk of a deal was “speculation” and “very premature.”

“I have conversations about possible business deals all the time, and 90 percent of them never move forward,” Mr. Connors, co-founder of the Boston advertising firm of Hill Holliday, said in a statement.

Edward Atorino, a newspaper industry analyst with Benchmark Co., said he doubts the Times Co. would sell the Globe now amid a labor contract dispute with the Globe’s largest union.

But Mr. Atorino said the possibility of a purchase involving Mr. Welch and Mr. Connors shouldn’t be discounted, especially coming after a local group’s recent purchase of newspapers in Philadelphia and the emergence of potential local bidders for the Los Angeles Times.

Roseanne Badowski, a spokeswoman for Mr. Welch, declined to comment yesterday.

The Globe, citing several unnamed executives who have participated in the discussions, said the potential partners are working with investment bankers at JPMorgan to evaluate a potential deal, and that JPMorgan has valued the Globe at $550 million to $600 million, below the $1.1 billion the Times Co. paid in 1993.

Times Co. spokeswoman Catherine Mathis said in a statement: “It is our policy not to comment on potential acquisitions or divestitures.”

Mr. Welch, Mr. Connors, and Boston concessionaire Joseph O’Donnell are considering bringing together a small group of local partners for a bid.

“I’ve been an avid reader of the Globe my entire life, and I appreciate the important role the newspaper plays in the civic life of this community,” said Mr. Connors, 64, who is scheduled to retire as Hill Holliday’s chairman at year’s end.

Mr. Welch, 70, grew up in Salem, Mass., and moved to Boston after his 20-year run as chairman and CEO at GE ended in 2001.

The Globe and the Boston Herald, which also had a report on the group’s interest, said Mr. Welch and Mr. Connors first discussed the possibility of buying the newspaper at a lunch about six weeks ago.

In Philadelphia, a federal mediator stepped in this week to find common ground between the new owner of the city’s two major daily newspapers and its unions.

With contracts expiring Tuesday, unions representing employees at the Philadelphia Inquirer and Philadelphia Daily News are negotiating several issues that include layoffs and a proposal to merge the two newsrooms. A federal mediator is called in when communication breaks down.

“In the name of wanting flexibility, they have not been willing to negotiate,” said Henry Holcomb, president of the Newspaper Guild of Greater Philadelphia and an Inquirer reporter.

Jay Devine, a spokesman for Philadelphia Media Holdings LLC, said management’s goal is to settle contracts with all its unions by the end of October. Of the company’s 12 unions, four have struck tentative deals with the new owners, an investment group led by Brian Tierney.

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