Feature

The Evolution of Dean Singleton

May 2003

Those sonorous words did not emanate from The Washington Post’s Donald Graham or Arthur Sulzberger Jr. of The New York Times, but from William Dean Singleton, one of the most controversial figures in the newspaper world. The New York Times noted his reputation as “the industry’s leading skinflint.” James Squires, a former editor of the Chicago Tribune, described him as “a rare bird indeed,” a “bone-picker publisher…who can wring blood from a turnip.” Some newspaper veterans view the 51-year-old Singleton as a latter-day Frank Munsey, who buried four New York dailies in the early part of the last century and whom A.J. Liebling called “a mass murderer of newspapers.”

Singleton is CEO of the privately held MediaNews Group, the seventh largest newspaper company in the U.S., with 48 dailies (and 121 nondailies) in 11 states. The best-known papers in MediaNews are The Denver Post, the Los Angeles Daily News, and The Salt Lake Tribune, which Singleton recently acquired with the aid of the Mormon Church. In constructing his empire, Singleton has included a very sharp knife among his tools, and he has used it. In 1975, after a brief, inglorious run, he closed The Fort Worth Press, the city’s second daily, which inspired reporters to hurl beer cans at him. In 1981, he gutted the Trenton Times, prompting its editor to tell the Columbia Journalism Review (CJR), “The public has lost a watchdog and gained a bulletin board.” In 1995, he shuttered the Houston Post, throwing well over a thousand people out of work and killing a publication that had served the community since 1885. Nor is Singleton known for graceful entrances. When he purchased The Berkshire Eagle in 1995, reporters were given a sheet of paper describing their job status and new salaries. “People were expected to read the paper and put their initials next to the words ‘accept’ or ‘reject’ on the spot,” Stephen Simurda wrote in CJR. “There were virtually no negotiations. This was day one of the Singleton era.”