The Times Mirror Company History

Times Mirror Square
Los Angeles, California 90053

Telephone: (213) 237-3700
Fax: (213) 237-3714

Public Company
Incorporated: 1884
Employees: 26,902
Sales: $3.4 billion (1995)
Stock Exchanges: New York Pacific
SICs: 2711 Newspapers; 2731 Book Publishing; 2721 Periodicals; 8741 Management Services; 4833 Television Broadcasting Stations; 4841 Cable and Other Pay Television Services

Company Perspectives:

To remain successful and grow in a new global marketplace, Times Mirror is committed to sustaining editorial excellence--in other words, doing what we do best--and growing through innovation. We recognize that among our greatest strengths is our reputation for editorial excellence, and we will continue to build on that reputation. In addition, we recognize that our businesses will only flourish and grow if we have superior competitive offerings. To this end, we have made focusing on innovation a cornerstone of our over-all business strategy. Innovation is the engine that will drive our growth--whether it's a new way of doing old things better, the creation of a new product, or the creation of a new business. All of our businesses are committed to growing through innovation.

Company History:

The Times Mirror Company ranks among the top five newspaper companies in the United States. Regarding itself as a news and information company, Times Mirror is comprised of three business segments: Newspaper Publishing, which houses the publishers of The Los Angeles Times, The Baltimore Sun, The Hartford Courant and other newspapers; Professional Information, a group of publishers of science, health, legal, and technical books, as well as a software developer; and Consumer Media, the company's popular magazine segment, publishing such popular periodicals as Field & Stream, Popular Science, Ski, Yachting, and others, including art book publisher Harry N. Abrams). From its unassuming beginnings as a four-page daily newspaper saved from an early demise by a printing and binding company, The Times Mirror Company has demonstrated a high degree of resourcefulness. Following a spate of acquisitions in the 1980s, the company was in the midst of a traumatic downsizing by the mid-1990s. Under the direction of former General Mills, Inc. Vice-Chairman Mark Willes, the company shut down New York Newsday and the Baltimore Sun's evening edition, spun off "nonessential" businesses, and slashed over 1,700 jobs from its work force. The change in management was said to be heavily influenced by descendants of co-founder Harry Chandler, who continued to hold over half of the company's voting stock in the mid-1990s. Notwithstanding its financial difficulties, the Times Mirror Co. and its newspapers enjoyed a reputation for quality journalism, having won eight Pulitzer Prizes from 1990 to 1995. Media watchers hoped that cost-cutting fervor would not bring that tradition to an end in the waning years of the 20th century.

Late 19th Century Origins

The Mirror Printing and Binding House, established in 1873 primarily for commercial printing, agreed in 1881 to print a new daily newspaper called the Los Angeles Daily Times, soon renamed the Los Angeles Times. The publishers abandoned the project shortly after it was launched, although the printers kept the newspaper going. Seven months later, Civil War veteran General Harrison Gray Otis was named full-time editor. In 1884 Otis and Colonel H.H. Boyce purchased both the newspaper and the printing company, incorporating them into The Times-Mirror Company. The hyphen was dropped before long. Two years later, Otis fully acquired the concern that declared itself "a new and hopeful candidate for a share of the patronage of the community." The newspaper set out, through its headlines and stories, to attract new residents and businesses to the sleepy town of Los Angeles. Over time, the newspaper found itself promoting a free harbor at San Pedro, in 1891, and construction of the city's first freeway, in 1930.

Acquisitions Begin Mid-20th Century

By 1948 Times Mirror had made its first acquisition, purchasing the Publishers Paper Company of Lake Oswego, Oregon. (In the 1980s, Publishers Paper would emerge as the third-largest newsprint producer in the United States, and about 70 percent of the newsprint produced by Publishers Paper in the early 1990s was sold to Times Mirror.) Another major acquisition came in 1961 when Times Mirror absorbed Englewood, Colorado-based Jeppesen Sanderson, the world's leading publisher of air navigation information and flight-training systems. Also that year, Times Mirror acquired the H.M. Goush Company, a producer of modern travel maps and pioneer of the accordion-fold map, in San Jose, California.

By 1963 Times Mirror was expanding into other specialized publishing, acquiring New York City-based Matthew Bender & Company, the largest publisher of legal forms and legal treatises in the United States. Two years later the company acquired Chicago-based Year Book Medical Publishers, publishers of medical reference books. Times Mirror bought the 17-year-old art book publisher Harry N. Abrams, Inc., of New York City in 1966. The following year, Times Mirror acquired the C.V. Mosby Company of St. Louis, Missouri, which since became the world's leading publisher of health-science books.

The company's entrance into magazine publishing came in 1967 when it acquired Popular Science, Outdoor Life, Golf Magazine, and Ski Magazine. Within 20 years of that acquisition, Times Mirror Magazines, Inc. had more than nine million readers and operated two national book clubs with annual sales in excess of two million books. Times Mirror's other strategic move into complementary media came in 1968 when it purchased Co-Axial Systems Engineering Company and its seven cable franchises in southern California, with a base of 5,700 subscribers. Times Mirror embarked on rapid growth in cable that soon included the acquisition of smaller systems in southern California and on Long Island, expanding its subscriber base to 22,000. Its most substantial increase in subscribers would come with the 1979 purchase of Communications Properties, Inc., then the nation's eighth-largest cable operator.

In 1970, Times Mirror acquired the 91-year-old Dallas Times Herald, as well as Newsday--the tabloid-sized Long Island, New York, daily, that had become the prototype for the nation's suburban press. The company's next major foray into new media was the formation of Times Mirror Broadcasting in 1970 that initially was comprised of KDFW-TV, Dallas, Texas, then known as KRLD-TV; KTBC-TV in Austin, Texas; KTVI-TV in St. Louis, Missouri; WVTM-TV in Birmingham, Alabama; WHTM-TV in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania; WSTM-TV in Syracuse, New York; and WETM-TV in Elmira, New York.

In 1977 the purchase of Southern Connecticut Newspapers Inc. gave Times Mirror control of two of the oldest Connecticut newspapers, The Advocate of Stamford and Greenwich Time. The acquisition of The Sporting News Publishing Company of St. Louis, Missouri, that year gave Times Mirror control of The Sporting News, a weekly magazine dating back to 1886 that eventually narrowed its focus to become known as "Baseball's Bible."

Times Mirror's 1978 acquisition of Graphic Controls Corporation of Buffalo, New York, was another bid to strengthen the company's presence in the medical-information field with its production of recording charts, instrument marking systems, disposable medical products, and coated imaging papers. Times Mirror kept returning to its roots, however, for acquisitions that strengthened both its editorial muscle and revenue base. In 1979 Times Mirror acquired The Hartford Courant of Connecticut, the nation's oldest continuously published newspaper. The Courant's proud heritage included reproducing the full text of the Declaration of Independence in July 1776, when the paper was 12 years old. In 1980 Times Mirror acquired The Denver Post. Four years later, in 1984, the company acquired Call-Chronicle Newspapers, Inc., now The Morning Call, serving a nine-county region in eastern Pennsylvania and in New Jersey.

Restructuring in the 1980s

To celebrate the advent of its second 100 years in business, Times Mirror adopted a new logo in 1984--a stylized version of the eagle that had appeared on the front of the Los Angeles Times and its other publications. In that year, Times Mirror's profit of $420.8 million was an increase of 13 percent from a year earlier. The company's 1984 revenues were a record $2.8 billion, also up 13 percent from the prior year. Newspaper publishing remained the single biggest revenue contributor.

In 1984 Times Mirror began a restructuring process that ended two years later in a flurry of buying and selling. In 1986 Times Mirror paid $600 million for A.S. Abell Company, owner of The Baltimore Sun. Times Mirror paid Dow Jones & Company $135 million for Richard D. Irwin Inc., a textbook publisher, in 1988. It also added Broadcasting (sold in May 1991) and The National Journal to its magazine holdings for $75 million and $10 million, respectively, during the restructuring, while selling the struggling Dallas Times Herald for $110 million. The company disposed of five television stations, a cable system in Las Vegas, Nevada, and a number of its non-media holdings. Times Mirror sold off $1 billion in assets and spent $750 million on acquisitions for its core print- and electronic-media businesses during the three-year restructuring.

In 1985 Newsday expanded and began to publish New York Newsday, an edition targeted to the Brooklyn and Queens boroughs of New York City. In 1986 the company sold H.M. Goush Company and the national book clubs. After 1986 Times Mirror turned its attention to capital expenditures, particularly in its newspaper operations, where equipment had to be updated. In 1987 it launched a five-year $385 million capital-investment plan, bringing new plant and facilities to the Los Angeles Times.

In 1987 David Laventhol succeeded Robert Erburu as president of Times Mirror although Erburu continued as chairman and chief executive officer of the company. Also that year, Times Mirror bought four magazines from Diamandis Communications for $176.5 million: Field & Stream, Yachting, Home Mechanix, and Skiing Magazine. The acquisition came at a time when Times Mirror began experimenting with new start-up publications, such as Sports Inc., which folded after a 15-month trial for lack of advertiser support.

The company sold the money-losing newspapers Denver Post and Dallas Times Herald in separate deals for a total of $205 million to Dallas publisher William Dean Singleton. Among the other assets sold as part of the restructuring was an 80 percent interest in Publishers Paper.

By 1990 Times Mirror had become the 12th-largest multiple cable system operator in the country and operated four network television affiliates. It had spent $1.5 billion acquiring new businesses throughout the 1980s--$583 million on newspaper properties; $595 million on book, magazine, and other publishing acquisitions; $235 million on cable TV systems; and $82 million on broadcast properties. Capital expenditures during the decade totaled $2.53 billion--more than half of which was concentrated in its newspaper operations. During that same period, revenues grew from $1.87 billion to $3.52 billion.

Financial Challenges in 1990s

Notwithstanding the high capital investments of the 1980s, Times Mirror's core newspaper segment, which continued to account for close to 60 percent of its overall corporate revenues, struggled. A nationwide advertising slump adversely affected all of United States media, beginning in the second half of the 1980s. Newspaper segment operating profits declined 61 percent the first nine months of 1990 compared to the same period a year earlier. In the same period, net income fell 40 percent to $134.9 million. Although it received a boost in circulation when workers at New York City's Daily News went on strike, Times Mirror's New York Newsday continued to lose money--a cumulative $150 million through 1995 by some analysts' estimates. The losses at New York Newsday helped hold the media company's profit margins under nine percent in the early 1990s. Perhaps more telling in a decade when some asserted that Wall Street had as much influence on public media companies as editors, Times Mirror's earnings per share declined over 15 percent, while the publishing industry gained an average of ten percent.

After the newspaper giant's revenues fell to a five-year low of $3.36 billion with a dismal profit margin of 5.2 percent in 1994, the company (prodded, many analysts said, by the Chandler family, which continued to control more than half its voting stock) brought in 54-year-old Mark Willes as CEO. As vice-chairman of General Mills Inc., Willes had earned a reputation as a staunch defender of the bottom line and the nickname "The Cereal Killer." The new leader wasted no time reinforcing that image; within just a few months, he had shuttered New York Newsday and the Baltimore Evening Sun, divested the company's cable venture, and announced job reductions of 1,000 for the rest of the company, with the axe falling hardest on the flagship Los Angeles Times. Some observers accused Willes of downsizing for the good of the stock, not the newspapers. But there was no arguing with the economic reality that newspaper circulation was on the decline while newsprint prices and other costs continued to rise.

Offsetting Willes' penchant for cost-cutting was a drive for growth. Noting that "You can never ultimately save your way to prosperity," Willes did invest in on-line services and electronic publishing. Indeed, Times Mirror's 1995 financial performance seemed to vindicate Willes approach. The company netted over $1.2 billion on $3.4 billion in revenues. Even after accounting for restructuring costs, the company earned its highest profit margin since 1989. Times Mirror stock shot from a ten-year nadir of $17 per share early in 1995 to almost $40 by spring 1996. Furthermore, the CEO has forecast year-over-year earnings per share increases of 50 percent, 40 percent, and 30 percent for 1996 through 1998.

Principal Subsidiaries: Baltimore Sun Co.; Hartford Courant Co.; Jeppesen & Co, GmbH; Jeppesen Sanderson, Inc.; Los Angeles Times; Matthew Bender & Company, Inc.; Morning Call, Inc.; Mosby-Year Book, Inc.; Harry N. Abrams, Inc.; Times Mirror Higher Education Group, Inc.; Times Mirror International Publishers US Inc.; Times Mirror Magazines, Inc.

Principal Operating Units: Newspaper Publishing; Professional Information; Consumer Media.

Further Reading:

  • Case, Tony, "Still Strong: Despite Rising Newsprint Prices and Declining Circulation, Newspaper Companies Boosted Their Profitability in 1995," Editor & Publisher, January 6, 1996, pp. 15-24.
  • ------, "Defending the 'Revolution'," Editor & Publisher, March 30, 1996, pp. 8-15.
  • Cohen, Adam, "Decline of the Times," Time, July 31, 1995.
  • Cohen, Roger, "New Aggressiveness at Times Mirror," The New York Times, December 3, 1990.
  • Grover, Ronald, "Times Mirror's Page-One Turnaround Story," Business Week, June 20, 1988.
  • Hart, Jack R., The Information Empire: The Rise of the Los Angeles Times and Times Mirror Corporation, 1981.
  • Hodges, Jane, and Keith Kelly, "Times Mirror's New-Media Coaster Ride," Advertising Age, January 29, 1996.
  • Kelly, Keith J., "Times Mirror Shifts Course," Advertising Age, June 5, 1995, p. 38.
  • Kimmelman, John, "The High Cost of Prestige," Financial World, February 28, 1995, pp. 36-37.
  • Lubove, Seth, "Chandler Versus Chandler," Forbes, November 20, 1995, pp. 43-45.
  • Olney, Warren, "Profits or Pulitzers?" Los Angeles Magazine, June 1996, pp. 34-38.
  • Reilly, Patrick, "Waiting for the Pay-Off," Advertising Age, May 24, 1989.
  • Thompson, Mark, "Times Mirror Tries to Deliver its Future," MEDIAWEEK, June 26, 1995, pp. 46-48.
  • "Top 100 Media Companies," Advertising Age, June 29, 1987.
  • "Willes Tops in Newspaper Pay," Editor & Publisher, April 20, 1996, p. 5.

Source: International Directory of Company Histories, Vol. 17. St. James Press, 1997.