1999 Reuters Story on UPI Sale

Here's a Dec. 7, 1999, story from the Reuters about the possible sale of UPI:


NEW YORK (Reuters) -- A Canadian press baron and one of U.S. TV's most recognizable business reporters are both vying to buy an American journalistic institution -- the ailing United Press International, staff and union officials said Tuesday.

One UPI staffer at the company's headquarters in Washington said journalists had been told that newspaper owner Conrad Black and former CNN financial anchor Lou Dobbs were both interested in acquiring the 90-year-old news service from ARA Group, a London-based Saudi investment group that paid $3.9 million in 1992 to bring UPI out of bankruptcy.

"UPI is being pursued by several suitors at this time," said Grey Burkhart, UPI Vice President and publisher. "The company's current ownership would entertain an appropriate offer that increases opportunities for success in the new direction we have recently adopted."

But Burkhart would not say if Dobbs and Black were the suitors, nor could he say when there might be a deal.

An assistant for Black at his company Hollinger International in New York said the Canadian publisher was out of the country and had no comment. Dobbs was not immediately available.

An official at the Wire Service Guild, which represents UPI's remaining "less than 100" journalists in the United States, said "it is between Black and Dobbs."

The union had been contacted by staffers who were expressing concern over the proposed change in ownership.

"This is more grim than in the '80s," said the union official, referring to UPI's financial woes of more than a decade ago. "There is a lot of uncertainty."

The union official said UPI management "indicated to us, they will do something, either sell or take some kind of action to get better funding."

In the early 1980s, the news service was sold by its long-time owner, the Scripps-Howard newspaper chain, and it later filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection as the economy forced newspapers to slash budgets. But the official said employees' anxiety was even more acute now because of UPI's dwindling presence in newspaper and broadcast news.

Over the last two decades, UPI has lost out to Reuters and other news services for the dollars of newspaper and broadcast clients. In recent years, it has concentrated mainly on providing news for Internet sites. According to Burkhart, "UPI has positioned itself to become a premiere news organization for the 21st century."

Despite featuring Helen Thomas, the doyenne of the White House press corps, UPI maintains bureaus only in Washington, New York, Chicago, Dallas, Los Angeles and Miami. For foreign coverage it relies on a network of freelance journalists and photographers and has no actual bricks and mortar offices.

Black, whose company owns the Chicago Sun-Times, Canada's National Post, the Jerusalem Post and London's Daily Telegraph, recently tried to purchase the New York Observer and nearly 10 years ago lost out to Mort Zuckerman to buy the New York Daily News.

Dobbs, who was one of America's most recognized financial journalist as anchor of CNN's Money Line for more than a decade, left the Time Warner-owned (TWX.N) cable network in June to start up the space news website, Space.com.