Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Monday, December 29, 2008

Lee plane in Florida

The Lee plane is on the move again. It made a trip earlier today from Davenport to Miami, then the Sarasota/Bradenton, Fla., airport. Another trip to a place where Lee doesn't own papers. What's going on?

I'm still looking for that Lee/Blackwell connection. Lee sold the plane at the beginning of this fiscal year to Blackwell Aviation LLC. Blackwell Aviation is owned by Rodney Blackwell, a real estate developer in Davenport. In fact, he owns 201 N. Harrison in Davenport -- home of Lee HQ. But that doesn't really answer why Blackwell would buy the Lee plane -- the only plane in the fleet. And, so far at least, it looks like all of the trips the plane has made have been Lee trips.

Where's that SEC filing?

Dec. 29 has come and gone -- where's that annual report? The company said Form 10-K would be filed on or before Dec. 29.

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Lee's baseball interests

Speaking of the Pulitzer papers, Lee Enterprises is a minority owner in the St. Louis Cardinals. Given the company's financial straits, don't you think that'd be worth selling?

Newsosaur examines Lee's debt

Newsosaur Alan Mutter has a post on Lee's debt. As Mutter points out, Lee is worth about $13.5 million. Before buying the Pulitzer chain, Lee was worth $1.5 billion, then borrowed almost that much to get the Pulitzer papers.

Of course, we're still waiting to see what will happen with that annual report.

Sunday, December 21, 2008

Return trip to Boston?

The Lee plan left Davenport around 5:30 p.m. Dec. 18 and flew to Bedford, Mass. -- just outside of Boston. It returned to Davenport at 1:15 p.m. Dec. 19. Then our little plane left Davenport again the next day around 10:45 a.m. and returned to Bedford, then back to Davenport a little after 4 p.m. the same day. Did someone forget a favorite pillow? Want more lobster? Certainly seems like a waste of time and money.

A reader pointed out this fun coincidence: A plane that belongs to MediaNews also made trips to Bedford, Mass. It arrived Dec. 17 at 12:13 p.m., and left early Dec. 18.

Friday, December 19, 2008

Lee plane makes trip to Boston

The Lee plane made a trip to Bedford, Mass., (near Boston) yesterday and is now about 45 minutes away from landing in Davenport. Boston? There aren't any Lee papers in/near Boston ...

Thursday, December 18, 2008

Layoffs at the Herald & Review?

I got an e-mail from the Paper Cuts blogger -- the blog that keeps track of newspaper layoffs. Seems she's trying to track down a rumor about layoffs in October or November at the Herald & Review in Decatur, Ill. Does anyone know if that's true? Leave a comment or send me an e-mail.

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

News from Waterloo/Cedar Falls?

What's going on in Waterloo, Iowa, today? It looks like the Lee plane made a flight from Davenport to Waterloo a little after 9 this morning. Send tips, comments and information to

Monday, December 15, 2008

Lee delays filing annual report

Lee Enterprises is delaying filing its annual report until Dec. 29. The company said it needs more time to calculate goodwill and intangible asset write-downs, which it says will total at least $180 million for the fourth quarter. In that quarter, Lee's net income fell 73 percent.

In case you missed it, here's the memo from CEO Mary Junck:
Dec. 15, 2008

Dear Lee Employee:

This afternoon, Lee announced difficult news. I want to assure you that we fully expect to overcome the challenges.

Because of worsening economic conditions, additional writedowns of intangible assets of Lee will be necessary. Also, our auditor, KPMG LLP, has informed us that it intends to issue a “going concern” opinion on Lee’s financial statements if our $306 million Pulitzer Notes debt has not been refinanced before our yearend financial statements are filed with the SEC in the next two weeks, even though that debt does not become due until April 2009.

These issues will create covenant problems under our various debt arrangements. We will be asking our lenders to waive the affected covenants in the short term, and we are also negotiating to extend or refinance the Pulitzer Notes as a longer-term solution. We are actively working with all parties and believe our lenders will help us get past these hurdles.

Although the credit markets remain extremely volatile, our lenders stand to benefit by sticking with us through this tough time. Lee continues to generate significant cash flow and continues to pay down debt. We have good relationships with our lenders, and they have shown a willingness to seek mutually beneficial arrangements. Other media companies with much more serious difficulties than ours have worked out such agreements with lenders, and we will continue to work toward a solution here.

These issues should have no meaningful effect on the way we operate our enterprises. In the meantime, unfortunately, you can expect to see negative speculation about Lee’s financial situation, much as we’ve been seeing about our industry for some time now.

As I mentioned in my note a few weeks ago, I fully believe that we’ll get though these challenges. It’s most important, especially in extraordinary times like this, to remember our strengths. We continue to be an industry leader in revenue and circulation performance, we continue to provide the great majority of people in our markets with vital local news and advertising that they cannot get anywhere else, and our audiences continue to grow. For those reasons and many others, we continue to believe that Lee will emerge strong when the national economic nightmare ends.

Thank you again for all you do for Lee, and for your perseverance in these painful economic times.

Mary Junck
We've seen worse, but Lee shares closed at 39 cents on Monday, down 20.4 percent.

Junck loses Grinch award

Lee Enterprises CEO Mary Junck came in second place in the St. Louis Area Jobs with Justice Grinch of the Year contest. Junck had 1,713 votes. Western Union "won," with 1,925 votes. Western Union was nominated for laying off 640 employees, a "blatant attempt to operate a union-free workplace." Junck, who was nominated by the St. Louis Newspaper Guild, was leading the voting up to the final day of competition.

Friday, December 12, 2008

What's the connection between Lee and Blackwell?

FlightAware Photo
Photo Courtesy of

A reader raises good questions: 
A quick Internet search reveals Blackwell is an LLC with one plane, the same one Lee recently "sold," with a business address identical to Lee's corporate address. So what gives? At the least, it appears that Lee's execs are flying on the same plane, whether they own it still or not.

It matters because when we were called into a mandatory meeting and informed of the cuts to our retirement benefits, one of the supervisors made sure to point out that corporate had sold the plane, implying that the belt-tightening an sacrifices were also being made at the top. It was a symbolic concession at best, but still served to ease some of the sting.
OK, I have to agree. What gives?

Earlier this week Mary Junck showed up at the Post-Dispatch. Sure enough, on Dec. 8 the plane -- the one in the picture -- left Davenport and landed in St. Louis 39 minutes later. On Dec. 10, the plane left St. Louis and 37 minutes later landed at Davenport. 

I've never been invited to Lee HQ or had a reason to stop by, but it's at 201 N. Harrison in Davenport. That six-story building is also home to an accountant, a Starbucks and a real estate developer. In fact, there's space to rent on the first and fourth floor of the building. So it's quite possible Blackwell Aviation LLC has an office in the same building, I'm just not sure where it is. And it's very possible and logical that Lee leases a plane from Blackwell ... evidently Blackwell's only plane. 

Anyone else have insight on the Blackwell/Lee relationship?

Thursday, December 11, 2008

Lee stock hits new low

Lee stock closed at 35 cents today. During the day, it hit a new low: 34 cents. The previous low was 36 cent. Is there some sort of prize if it hits a quarter? I didn't think so.

No union at Pantagraph

Employees at The Pantagraph in Bloomington, Ill., voted that they would not unionize. A memo is posted on the Lee site; nothing has been posted yet on the Pantagraph Union site. Interesting enough, as I learned from an employee at the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, Lee's memo was e-mailed to all Post-Dispatch employees this afternoon. Post-Dispatch employees are organized under the St. Louis Newspaper Guild. 

Classy, Lee. I'm sure if the results had been different, no memo would have been sent out.

Let me know of shenanigans and announcements at your paper:

Monday, December 8, 2008

Retirees protest benefit cuts at St. Louis Post-Dispatch

It sounds like there was some excitement at the St. Louis Post-Dispatch on Monday morning. CEO Mary Junck made a trip to the paper and was greeted by protestors. The St. Louis Fox station has a story and video; a group of retirees were protesting cuts made to their health benefits. 

Lee stock falls 18 percent

On the day that the New York Times announced it was borrowing against its own building and Tribune Co. filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection, Lee stock closed at 50 cents a share. 

Sunday, December 7, 2008

La Crosse Tribune editor moves to Wisconsin State Journal

La Crosse Tribune editor John Smalley is heading to the Wisconsin State Journal next month, replacing Ellen Foley. Foley resigned in October.

HuffPo vs. Lee

The Huffington Post is worth more than Lee Enterprises.

Lee ended the week trading at 61 cents a share.

For sale: Lee Lodge; jet not included

What's going on up at the "Lee Lodge"? The Billings Blog found it back in August -- for sale.

It looks like Lambros Real Estate still has the Polson, Mont., lodge listed for $4.5 million. (A motivated seller might've dropped the price in the last four months.) That includes 6 acres on Flathead Lake, adjacent to the Polson golf course. There are five houses, three cabins, a duplex, indoor pool, tennis court, a conference center and a maintenance shop.

I'm not sure if Lee still has its corporate jet. In 2006, a Cessna Citation Excel was registered to Lee. That 13-seat plane (serial number 560-5628, N-number 890LE ) is now registered to Blackwell Aviation in Davenport, Iowa. That plane flew from the Spirit of St. Louis Airport to the Quad City International Airport 11 days ago. A trip from the St. Louis Post-Dispatch back to headquarters, perhaps? Looking at past flight activity, it looks like almost all of the flights correspond to a Lee paper. (Maybe it's time to learn a lesson from Detroit's automakers?)

Priority check: Lee funds social media provider

An interesting story was sent to me from The Port regarding its funding. The Port is a "leading social media solutions provider" and has raise $4.1 million thanks to investors that include Lee Enterprises.

From its website, The Port links (several times) to a social network at the St. Louis Post-Dispatch.

The $4.1 million question: How can Lee afford to help fund The Port when letters just went out about cutting retiree health care, speculation about bankruptcy and layoffs abound, and it's stock is worth less than a copy of the Sunday paper?