"Vedomosti" struck coronavirus

The sale of the newspaper Vedomosti is being delayed. The plans were violated by the COVID-19 coronavirus pandemic and the self-isolation regime introduced in Russia, and an editorial conflict became an additional problem.
Origin source
Entrepreneurs Demyan Kudryavtsev, Vladimir Voronov, and Martin Pompadour, controlling shares and debt of Business News Media JSC (Vedomosti publisher, Harvard Business Review magazine), announced on March 17 an agreement on the sale of shares and assets related to this project. As stated in their statement published on the Vedomosti website, the buyers are the co-owner and publisher of the Versiya newspaper Konstantin Zyatkov and businessman Alexey Golubovich. The price of the asset was not disclosed, but it was clarified that it was "determined taking into account all market parameters." On the same day, sellers announced the termination of the powers of the board of directors of the Vedomosti publisher. The deal should be closed within one to two months, then Vedomosti reported.

No deal has been concluded between potential investors and the owner’s representative, there is only an action plan to examine the company, evaluate it and prepare legal actions, the main of which is debt restructuring, preferably with an increase in share capital, says one of the participants in the transaction. According to him, including due to quarantine, "they are only just starting to evaluate the company."

“Delay for four months”

Given the situation with coronavirus, now it’s become more difficult to give a meaningful deal schedule, Voronov notes. This is also confirmed by Kudryavtsev: "Something can drag on by itself - a total weekend in the country." At the same time, he draws attention, the transaction did not have a hard date. “No one is interested, at least I, so that it goes slower. "We have already given control - both administrative and editorial, why pull it?" - explains Kudryavtsev. He himself, according to him, has not appeared in the office since the transfer of control on March 18. Golubovich denies the transfer of operational control. According to him, investors did not plan to intervene in the management before the transaction and did not agree on this with Kudryavtsev.

The volume of obligations of Business News Media at the end of 2018, according to Rosstat data in SPARK-Interfax, amounted to 1.018 billion rubles, of which long-term liabilities amounted to 154 million rubles, and short-term - more than 864 million rubles. The Forbes interlocutor, close to the company, estimates her total debt load at $ 5-8 million. According to him, the debt obligations of the asset are controlled not only by Kudryavtsev and Voronov, but also by other creditors known to management and customers.

Another interlocutor, close to the consultations, told Forbes that he became aware of the demand for the newspaper “to return 150 million rubles” received on the weekend of March 28-29. He believes that the demand was presented by the offshore company of businessman Dmitry Bosov. The president of the Alltek group, Bosov, previously provided financing to Vedomosti, confirmed Demyan Kudryavtsev in an interview with the founder of The Bell, Elizaveta Osetinskaya. “Once, and the money was returned to him. And the whole editorial staff knows this. I coordinated this with Lysova (Tatyana Lysova, the former editor-in-chief of Vedomosti. - Forbes) and told the editorial office, ”Kudryavtsev said. Bosov himself in an interview with Vedomosti in 2008 called Kudryavtsev one of his friends.

The Forbes interlocutor, close to the company, does not deny receipt of the demand for the newspaper. He explained it as “the activation of creditors in anticipation of the transaction and the difficulties in communication due to quarantine”.

When asked by Forbes whether the newspaper really received a demand to return 150 million rubles and whether Bosov is one of the lenders of the publication, Voronov replied: “We don’t give any details, I can only say that all debts will be repaid or transferred to the consent of the parties before closing deals. " Demyan Kudryavtsev redirected these questions to the publisher’s director general, Gleb Prozorov, while in conversation with Forbes he refused to comment on “everything related to shareholder issues”. Bosov’s spokesman did not respond to a Forbes request.

Structuring the transaction will take four months, one of the participants in the consultations told Forbes. The self-isolation regime introduced in the capital makes adjustments: the procedures are likely to take longer than planned, Forbes Zyatkov said. He emphasized that “all parties are interested in the speedy completion” of the transaction.

"Trained to come up with headlines"

Since March 24, Andrei Shmarov, co-founder of Expert magazine, has become the acting editor-in-chief of Vedomosti. Potential buyers made this nomination: Shmarov’s appointment was mentioned in a letter to Zyatkov and Golubovich to the chief editor of Vedomosti, Ilya Bulavinov, and to the general director of the publisher of Business News Media, Gleb Prozorov, Vedomosti reported. Golubovich suggested Shmarov’s candidacy, the publication wrote with reference to Zyatkov.

Soon after the change of management, a scandal arose. The reason for him was an article on the sale of Rosneft's assets in Venezuela, published on March 29 on the publication’s website. The material was originally called “The State may formally lose a controlling stake in Rosneft. On Monday, March 30, the title of an already published material was changed to “The state will retain control in Rosneft as a result of a complex transaction. The title was changed by Andrei Shmarov, not coordinating the revision with his subordinates, but the editors returned the previous title. In a conversation with Forbes, Shmarov called the incident "a purely technological history." “I trained to come up with different headlines for the site and the newspaper and did not know that it was necessary to coordinate this with someone,” he explained.

On the same day, four deputy chief editor and chief editor of the newspaper wrote a letter to Kudryavtsev, Zyatkov and Golubovich with a proposal to appoint Anfis Voronin as the chief editor of Vedomosti. Now she is the chief editor of the Vedomosti & project, which produces commercial materials. The authors of the letter claimed that the "rapid change of the chief editor" to Andrei Shmarov, "alien to journalistic principles and the corporate culture of the publication, destabilized the team, shocked the newsmakers and advertisers." Key Vedomosti journalists are starting to quit, they said. According to reporters, there is “an acute crisis of confidence both within the team that does not want to work with new leaders alien to it, and outside” - readers and advertisers are “amazed at the new appointments, subscribers are already asking for money back for their subscription.” In addition to Shmarov, the former head of the Zhivi media group, Yuri Katsman, was nominated for the post of editorial director of Vedomosti.

Shmarov himself does not agree with the contents of the letter of his deputies. “I launched and managed the Kommersant and Expert publications, launched and was the general director of the Snob publication. Why can't I run Vedomosti? The authors of the letter do not explain this, ”Shmarov told Forbes. He also does not agree with the statement that the newspaper will rapidly degrade under him. “It is impossible for one person to destroy such a mechanism,” objected Shmarov. “Thirdly, it happens that the editorial board leaves. I was once fired from Kommersant, and many left with me. It’s unpleasant, but it happens, ”he concluded.

“No one is happy with the conflict”

On April 1, the Vedomosti editors voted for the new editor-in-chief. According to the results of the vote, Anfisa Voronina won 73 out of 79 votes, other candidates received 1-2 votes, and no one voted for Shmarov, Alexander Gubsky, deputy editor-in-chief of Vedomosti, wrote a letter to Zyatkov, Golubovich and Kudryavtsev in a new letter. “The appointment of the chief editor and officers depends on the board of directors of the company, which can be formed only by shareholders that we are not yet,” Golubovich answered him (Forbes reviewed the correspondence).

As explained by Forbes Golubovich, the owner (meaning Voronin. - Forbes) called Shmarov’s candidacy acceptable after leaving Bulavinov (he changed the position of editor-in-chief to deputy chief editor of Vedomosti. - Forbes), and immediately after the meeting of Shmarov with the editorial board on March 18 a letter was sent to the newspaper, signed by Zyatkov, which proposed to consider Shmarov’s candidacy. “Simultaneously with the organization of the meeting between Andrei Shmarov and the editors, the owner of the newspaper dissolved the board of directors. Therefore, it is now possible to appoint the chief editor only by creating a new board of directors, which investors cannot yet form, and the owner apparently does not want to, ”Golubovich explained.

Negotiators acknowledge that the conflict in the editorial office complicates the deal. “The conflict in the team must be resolved as soon as possible, the media is a very human-dependent business, and if the team is lost, then the problems caused by the crisis will add problems with the loss of subscribers. Then it will be impossible to sell Vedomosti, this must be taken into account by both current owners and any potential investors, ”Golubovich told Vedomosti. He repeated the same thing in a conversation with Forbes.

One of Vedomosti’s potential investors told Forbes that it couldn’t yet answer the question of whether the deal would take place if the conflict wasn’t resolved.

“If the main thing in the newspaper is the editorial office, then the longer the situation is suspended, the worse. Therefore, no, no one is happy with the conflict of the editorial board, but Zyatkov is in communication with the editorial board, ”Kudryavtsev objects. Not later than a month after the transaction is completed, a meeting of the board of directors is expected, at which the editorial board will have the opportunity to choose a new leader in accordance with the charter, follows from Zyatkov’s appeal to the Vedomosti team (Forbes has it).

Quarantine in print distribution

The issue of the Vedomosti newspaper was suspended for the period declared by the president as a non-working week. This was announced on March 30 by the CEO of Business News Media Gleb Prozorov, RNS agency reported.

“Vedomosti” will begin to appear at the moment when the restrictions imposed by the president and mayor of Moscow are lifted, by their decrees, which introduce a non-working period and oblige us to comply with anti-epidemic measures, which, unfortunately, greatly limit our ability to spread. Here it is not only the print of the newspaper, but also its distribution. Therefore, as long as such restrictions are in effect, a printed version will not be released, ”Gleb Prozorov told Forbes.

The average audience of one Vedomosti issue in Russia is 192,300, including 142,900 in Moscow, according to Mediascope (data for May-October 2019).

The site Vedomosti.ru continues to work as usual. In March 2020, Vedomosti.ru reached 25.6 million users, according to the Liveinternet counter. By the end of 2019, Vedomosti.ru maintained eighth place in the top 10 most-cited newspapers on social networks in the Medialogy rating.