Bullish on Belo


Now comes a time of year that Buzz truly hates. Once again someone has sent us the annual report for Belo Corp., our favorite monolithic media conglomerate, and our job is to make sense of it.

Let us reiterate. If Buzz knew anything about business, we wouldn't be in the business we're in. Still, we're game for anything, and after a dozen phone calls to stock analysts in New York City, we've come up with one clear-cut fact: If you want a New York stock analyst to call you back, lie and say you work for The Wall Street Journal, not the Dallas Observer.

Nevertheless, after diligently researching the Web and thoroughly reading some of the annual report (c'mon, it's boring), we reached this conclusion: Buzz may face a long, penurious retirement.

Why? Because Belo is a profitable corporation whose stock price is--pardon the technical financial lingo here--poo. Meanwhile, Buzz's spouse works for The Dallas Morning News, which Belo owns, and receives part of her (meaning, our) retirement benefits in the form of Belo stock. Buzz, incidentally, comes from a long-lived family, so we'll need every penny we can get.

Belo's net earnings were $178.3 million in 1999, compared with $64.9 million in 1998. (Part of the huge difference is explained by Belo's sale in 1999 of several television stations.) The increase comes despite a decline in the number of advertising inches in its flagship, the Morning News, a drop that was offset by higher ad rates. Belo's stock, meanwhile, was trading at $16.56 a share at the close of last week, well below its 1999 high of $24.50.

Nine Wall Street analysts--plus Buzz--who follow Belo's performance list its stock as a buy/hold, which leads to the inevitable question: What is wrong with you people? For God's sake, get your money out of those shaky dotcoms. Forget that traditional media is dying. Picture a decrepit, elderly Buzz 30 years hence, collecting cans along the side of the road for spare change.

OK, so it's not that big of a change.

The butt-naked truth

If Belo is looking for something to boost readership at the Morning News as a way to prop up its bottom line, it need look no further than the Hillcrest High School Hurricane. (That's a joke. Just wait.)

The Hurricane is a fine student newspaper whose staff recently had the courage to tackle a thorny, controversial local issue head-on, courage being something the Morning News is sorely lacking. The April 27 Hurricane featured this sobering headline: "Caught with your pants down--Appropriateness of 'pantsing' in school debated." (There. That's the joke.)

Buzz admires the story on many levels. Notice the Morning Newsian evenhandedness of the headline. There's a debate over pantsing? Someone thinks it's a good idea? Gotta get both sides of the story, which in the Hurricane's case was featured in a short profile called "Panster Profile" about senior Kyle Duke. He boasts of 400 attempted pantsings, with a success rate of "around 70 percent," including one day in which he removed the britches of 25 people. "If it's my mission all day long, I'll skip class and go pants people," Duke said.

Kyle, babe, seek professional help.

Compiled from staff reports by Patrick Williams


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