Freedom Communications, the California media conglomerate and owner of the Orange County Register, is expected to declare bankruptcy this week, following a slew of similar filings by industry giants including the Tribune Company, Philadelphia Newspapers and Journal Register Company.
The Wall Street Journal reported this afternoon that the Irvine-based company, which owns 30 daily papers and eight TV stations, has reported their earnings have declined 75 percent in the past five years, forcing them to seek agreements with lenders to restructure their debts.
Freedom’s declaration isn’t necessarily surprising — the newspaper industry is in undeniable decline. But here’s something that is being underreported: with all these media conglomerates filing for Chapter 11 status, JPMorgan Chase is emerging as the top lender bailing out many of these companies.
Already, they own equity stakes in many print media businesses including Readers Digest — which filed for bankruptcy on August 24, Source Interlink Media and American Media, the company behind many magazine publications including Star and the National Enquirer. They also hold a majority stake in Journal Register, which owns the New Haven Register and many local east coast papers. As if this isn’t enough, the bank helped finance the 2007 sale of the Tribune Co. to Sam Zell a year before the company filed for bankruptcy.
All these holdings have resulted in combined revenues of more than $5 billion for one of the four biggest American banks.
It’s only slightly ironic that banks are becoming the biggest lenders for the declining print industry when they are struggling to stay out of bankruptcy themselves. But if JPMorgan Chase is now the country’s largest controller of the media, one can only wonder if we’ll ever hear when they go under, too.