Ex-AP chief will lead Tribune parent - East Valley Tribune: East Valley Local News

Ex-AP chief will lead Tribune parent

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Posted: Thursday, June 18, 2009 2:04 pm | Updated: 2:33 am, Sat Oct 8, 2011.

The board of Freedom Communications Inc., parent company of the Tribune, named Burl Osborne interim chief executive on Tuesday, replacing the outgoing CEO who is leaving for a similar post at Playboy Enterprises Inc.

Burl OsborneThe board of Freedom Communications Inc., parent company of the Tribune, named Burl Osborne interim chief executive on Tuesday, replacing the outgoing CEO who is leaving for a similar post at Playboy Enterprises Inc.

Osborne, 71, has served as an independent director on Freedom's board since May 2004 and is a career newspaper industry executive.

"We all know these are challenging times for everyone in the media industry, but what is exceptional about Freedom is the strength and consistency of its commitment to its stakeholders and the communities it serves," Osborne said in a statement. "Everyone is dedicated to transforming our business to meet our challenges, and I look forward to leading the company, in collaboration with the management team, to that goal."

He was chairman of the Associated Press from 2002 to 2007. He was the publisher of the Dallas Morning News from 1986 to 2001 and continues to head the Belo Foundation, the Morning News' parent company's philanthropic organization. He lives in Dallas.

Osborne replaces Scott Flanders, Freedom's CEO since 2006, who is leaving at the end of June to head the financially troubled Playboy.

"During my time at Freedom, I saw a very committed group of people rise to the task of remaking the company," Flanders said in a statement. "Burl is the right person to lead the next phase of the company's evolution because he understands both the strengths of the media that must be preserved and what needs to be changed to compete in this new media environment."

Like many media companies, Freedom has suffered falling revenue because of a decline in ad sales and circulation losses as consumers migrate to the Internet. Those trends have accelerated in the current economic recession.

A privately held media company, Freedom went into debt in 2004, when it partnered with two private equity firms, the Blackstone Group and Providence Equity Partners, to raise money so family members could sell their interests in the company. Under the agreement, Freedom's family shareholders maintain control of the company.

"Burl is an exceptional leader who combines outstanding business acumen with depth of experience in the newspaper industry," said Thomas Bassett, great-grandson of Freedom's founder, R.C. Hoiles, and chairman of Freedom's board of directors. "Respected for his integrity and dedication, Burl has already served on Freedom's board in many key positions over the last five years, and I am confident that he will be an outstanding CEO."

Osborne's top challenge is restructuring Freedom's $700 million in debt, which is due to be serviced by the end of 2009. Freedom technically violated its debt covenants last October when it fell out of compliance of required debt-to-revenue ratios.

In March, Moody's Rating Service downgraded Freedom's debt to Caa, two steps above its lowest grade. In April, Standard and Poor's downgraded Freedom's debt rating to CCC-, two grades above bankruptcy. On June 10, S&P withdrew its debt rating of Freedom at the company's request.

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