The Washington Post Co. paid $55 million for the 17 percent stake in Cowles Media it purchased last year and hopes to increase its holdings in the Minneapolis publishing company to 20 percent, Chairman Katharine Graham told shareholders yesterday.
The Post Co. is seeking only a slice of Cowles because "the whole pie is not available," Graham told stockholders at the company's annual meeting.
"We do not plan to buy a great deal more. If we reach 20 percent it would help accounting," she added. Accounting rules allow investors who own 20 percent of a firm's stock to report a proportionate share of its sales and earnings as their own.
In a wide-ranging discussion of the company's goals, Graham listed some directions in which the company hopes to move and others in which it has no interest.
"I would not take the New York Post as a present," she said when asked whether there had been any discussions with publisher Rupert Murdoch, who may have to sell his New York newspaper in order to buy a television station in the same market.
Praising Murdoch's efforts to rebuild the New York tabloid, Graham added, "To operate in that difficult environment is not something I would look for."
Nor, she added, is The Post Co. interested in buying Murdoch's Chicago Sun-Times, which was put up for sale Thursday. The company looked at the Sun-Times previously, she said, but, "I would be less interested now than I was before" because "a number of good people have gone."
Graham dismissed reports that The Post Co. might act as a "white knight" to rescue CBS Inc. from an unfriendly takeover by Cable News Network chief Ted Turner. "If I had $6 billion you might look to be a white knight, but I don't, nor do I have access to that many junk bonds," the financing method Turner hopes to use to buy the network.
Graham said The Post Co. is making excellent progress toward its goals of sustained earnings growth, developing new businesses and building for the future of the business.
Among the new ventures are interests in the cellular mobile telephone systems in the Washington-Baltimore and Miami markets, the sports channel cable TV venture and the acquisition of the Stanley H. Kaplan educational centers, which prepare students for standardized tests.
Asked whether the recent repurchase of 1.25 million shares of its class B stock meant The Post Co. might seek to return to private ownership, Graham replied, "No way. We have no interest."
Graham spent more than two hours answering questions and criticisms about news coverage of The Washington Post that were asked by Reed Irvine and other representatives of Accuracy in Media, the Rev. Lester Kinsolving and corporate gadfly Evelyn Y. Davis.
Davis, who attends dozens of annual meetings as editor of a personal newsletter, praised The Post's new Health section and offered to make herself available for an interview about her recent facelift surgery.
"It's a very nice job, Evelyn," Graham said.