Tribune Publishing Company, which is now in the process of being acquired by Alden Global Capital, increased its digital revenue by 57%, or $16.5 million, in 2020 YoY, and the number of its digital-only subscribers by 30.5% to 436,000.
But those gains only partly offset an overall revenue decline to $746 million, versus $945 million in 2019, and a loss from continuing operations of $46.8 million, up from $7.1 million in the prior year, according to financial results released on Thursday.
The overall hit was also mitigated, in part, by a 14.5% reduction in operating expenses, or $138.1 million.
The cuts included $51.1 million in reduced lease obligations, $3.5 in pension obligations and a capital lease (classified as debt) by $6.9 million.
But newsroom staffers worry that Alden, described by The Chicago Tribune as “a hedge fund with a history of deep cost-cutting at its other newspaper properties,” will impose further reductions.
The pressures facing the company, which are perhaps typical of all publishers, are encapsulated in its fourth-quarter results. Revenue fell by $46.7 million to $192.7 million, a 19.5% fall YoY.
Ad revenue faced challenges in all categories, declining by $32.7 million. Circulation revenue decreased by 3.4%, or $3.1 million. Home delivery revenue dropped by $6 million decline in and single copy sales by $2.6 million.
It remains to be seen if these problems are caused by the pandemic, or are systemic in nature. Either way, Tribune CEO Terry Jimenez is putting out upbeat statements.
"The journalism our newsrooms produce and the creative solutions our marketing teams deliver will remain core to our success,” he states.
Tribune Publishing’s brands include: the Chicago Tribune, New York Daily News, The Baltimore Sun, Hartford Courant, South Florida's Sun Sentinel and Orlando Sentinel, Virginia’s Daily Press and The Virginian-Pilot, and The Morning Call of Lehigh Valley, Pennsylvania.
In February, the company announced Alden would acquire all outstanding shares for $630 million, or $17.25 per share. The deal, which will bring the firm private, is expected to close in the second quarter.
Tribune Publishing expects total revenues of $170 million to $172 million during the first quarter of 2021.