Burnt Offering

Did the Post-Dispatch try to buy itself?

Others were less optimistic. "[The ESOP]'s being treated as a lark, and a bit of a joke," said a fellow staffer, who also declined to be named. "I think people respect its symbolic importance rather than anything else."

With regard to Carey's initial report on the ESOP group, the staffer added: "I think the article raised more questions than answers. The background on that is the Wall Street Journal has been cleaning our clock on much of the Pulitzer story, so it was like, 'Can't we at least get more on this one?' I mean, it's coming from within our own paper!"

On Monday morning, hours after the announced sale to the Davenport, Iowa-based newspaper chain, the ESOP group's spokesman, Bill Freivogel, conceded the effort never had much chance.

"We got the sense that by Friday [January 28] the deal was pretty closed," he says. "It sounds as though Lee was actively interested as early as Christmas. At that point we were really just beginning our process."

Correction published 2/9/05: The original version of this story erred in reporting several details about the proposed employee buyout of the Post-Dispatch. Though a member of the ESOP group informed the RFT that the idea came from a retired attorney, the idea man was actually a businessman. Also, the ESOP group circulated information about the effort via a handout printed at their own expense, not through an internal e-mail. Finally, the group did not formally retain Joe Schlafly at Stifel, Nicolaus & Co.; he consulted gratis. The above version reflects the corrected text.

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