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Death of a news station — a mini timeline

November 13, 2008: The Pelican Press reports on a “rumor” that the Sarasota Herald-Tribune’s 24-hour cable news station – SNN 6 – is on the sale block for $2 million. PP reports that Sarasota H-T Publisher Diane McFarlin answered their inquiry with the following statement “‘SNN 6 is not for sale.’” Though in the news item, PP reports that McFarlin “admitted to hearing the same rumor and the same price figure.”

Two days later, McFarlin says something quite a bit different:

November 15, 2008: Michael Pollick runs an article with the headline “SNN TV to be sold to its top executive.” In the article he quotes McFarlin as saying that because of the difficult business environment of the current times, “‘… we have determined that the Herald-Tribune Media Group can no longer operate SNN News 6 after this year’.”

November 15, 2008: When I spoke with Bruce Asbury earlier this week, he told me that on this day, SNN 6 staffers are given termination notice of 45 days (termination to be effective December 31, 2008). He said that staffers were told that SNN was being sold to Station Manager Linda DesMarais and her husband as of January 1st, 2009 and that employees would be absorbed into the new ownership entity. As such, no severance would be paid to employees by Sarasota H-T or its parent company, The New York Times. The general understanding, according to Asbury, was that the new DesMarais-owned company would honor all previously existing severance packages and contracts if SNN 6 should close at some future date after the sale.

December 31, 2008: Michael Pollick reporting on January 26, 2009 writes that the year-end deadline “was extended while DesMarais and Barker raised the capital to make SNN self-sustaining, and conducted negotiations with Comcast at its Philadelphia headquarters.”

Asbury says SNN staffers were told on this day that an extension had been granted to DesMarais until January 7th.

Early January, 2009: Asbury describes the anxiety-inducing holding pattern SNNers were experiencing: “When January 7th arrived, we were given yet another week extension. When January 14 arrived, we were given a four day extension. On January 18th we were given a “day to day” extension, with the absolute final deadline being the 31st of January. On Monday January 26th, we were all called into a meeting at 2 pm, and told to go home. We had been placed on unpaid furlough until the following Monday, Feb. 2.”

January 26, 2009: Sarasota H-T headline reads “SNN will go dark, awaiting a new deal.

February 3, 2009: According to Asbury, SNN 6 staffers were asked to gather in a downstairs conference room at the Sarasota Herald-Tribune building in downtown Sarasota. “The New York Times called the meeting yesterday and gave us our severance pay,” Asbury said.

February 6th — folks around town are pretty dismayed. No one is thinking the demise of SNN 6 is temporary — everyone’s talking like it’s a permanent thing. Sad for the community. Some of us are suffering SNN 6 withdrawal.

Scuttlebutt is all about who the drop-out investor was and why one investor had the ability to derail a deal that seemed to be so close to going through.

DesMarais said, “The big surprise was that Thursday afternoon [which would have been January 22] we learned that one of our key investors had dropped out.” If one investor dropped out on January 22, making the deal a no-go — why were staffers being told week by week since December 31st that they were being “extended.” If up to that point the deal had been pretty solid, why the slow drag-out of weekly extensions being communicated to the staff?

Lots of questions — if SNN 6 was as profitable as McFarlin and DesMarais say it was, why isn’t anyone interested? There’s still a lot of money in these parts and a lot of folks looking for a smart place to park it.

As recently as November, McFarlin was quoted in the Herald-Trib as saying, “”SNN in the month of October reached the highest revenues in the history of the station and the most viewers in the history of the station.'”

Of course, we don’t know the history of revenues of the station … .

Posted on February 6th, 2009Comments RSS Feed

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