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NEW YORK, April 21 (Reuters) - New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg on Monday dismissed media reports that he could be a suitor for the New York Times Co NYT.N, saying he is not interested in getting into the newspaper industry.
“I am not going to go into the newspaper business,” Bloomberg said when asked by reporters at a press conference to discuss city affairs. “I am not a newspaper person.”
The comments come after intense speculation Bloomberg could join the ranks of billionaires who have the financial heft to rescue a deteriorating U.S. newspaper business.
The Times arguably may be the crown jewel of U.S. journalism, but it is dealing with a steady decline in ad revenue at its flagship paper and other papers such as the Boston Globe, a slump that has hit the entire industry.
The Times’s financial performance and sliding share price has sparked anger among its outside investors, some of whom have publicly blasted its executives for poor management.
The New York Post reported on Monday that some members of the Times’s controlling Ochs-Sulzberger family would be receptive to the idea of a protector.
Bloomberg, who founded financial news and information service Bloomberg LP before becoming mayor, has been encouraged by his close associates to make a bid for the Times and save it from shareholder anger, Newsweek said in its April 28 edition.
Bloomberg could take the company private and “help protect the brand” with his estimated $11.6 billion personal fortune, Newsweek said, quoting an unnamed source.
Speculation on Bloomberg and the Times has surfaced in the past, but the mayor scoffed at the idea on Monday.
“I don’t know why anybody keeps pushing this,” he said.
New York Times shares closed up 5.5 percent.
BLOOMBERG’S NEXT MOVE
Some of the conjecture stems from curiosity over Bloomberg’s next move after his term ends in December 2009. Political observers thought for years he would run for U.S. president, but the mayor threw cold water on those plans.
Former New York Mayor Ed Koch said Bloomberg could still be expected to seek a big new role if he leaves City Hall.
“I cannot believe that he’ll be happy just simply being the head of a $15 billion foundation, just giving out money,” Koch told Reuters.
The Times is also facing a bold move by News Corp NWSa.N chief Rupert Murdoch to lead the U.S. news agenda with closer political coverage in his Wall Street Journal newspaper.
Bloomberg is considered one of the savviest business minds in the industry and even Murdoch has said he would not relish going up against him, according to Newsweek.
The family believes the company’s current capital structure, which gives it control through a special tier of shares, is the best way to protect its editorial independence, a Times spokeswoman said. Analysts also downplayed the idea.
“All of this is just rumor-mongering in the first place,” said veteran newspaper analyst John Morton.
Changing the family’s control over the Times would be like a “snowball melting in hell,” he said.
But the Times has already shown some signs of relenting to criticism. Last month, the company agreed to support two board nominees put forward by an outside shareholder, hedge fund Harbinger Capital Management.
If elected at a shareholder meeting on Tuesday, they would be the first outside directors at the company since it went public. Harbinger and board nominee Scott Galloway of Firebrand Partners have urged changes at the Times, including possibly selling off properties and accelerating its move into digital.
Thomson Reuters Corp TRI.TO competes with Bloomberg in providing financial news and information. (Additional reporting by Paul Thomasch; Editing by Tim Dobbyn/Andre Grenon)
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