New Freedom boss brings ‘wealth of experience’

By Mary Ann Milbourn

By Mary Ann Milbourn

Freedom Communications

Freedom Communications Inc. has named Mitchell Stern, the former chairman and chief executive of Fox Television Stations Inc., as CEO of the Irvine, Calif.-based media company.

Freedom owns the Portales News-Tribune, Clovis News Journal and Quay County Sun.

“We are very pleased that Mitch has agreed to lead Freedom Communications as its chief executive officer,” said James Dunning Jr., Freedom board chairman, in a statement from the company.

“With his 30 years of experience in the media industry, he brings a wealth of experience and forward-thinking to the job. His talents as both a strategic thinker and a hands-on executive are a perfect fit for Freedom and make him the right person to lead our talented associates and diverse properties in tackling the challenges of the new media environment.”

Stern called his new job a great opportunity.

“There is a multitude of talent at Freedom and a real desire on the part of everyone to move forward and create new ways of serving the company’s many communities,” he said in the company’s press release. “With its local focus and national breadth and with a successful restructuring behind it, Freedom is perfectly positioned to demonstrate what it means to be a new kind of media company. My job from day one will be to focus all our talents and energies on achieving that goal.”

Stern, 54, succeeds Burl Osborne, who stepped in as Freedom’s interim CEO last July after Scott Flanders left to run Playboy Enterprises Inc. The new Freedom CEO takes over Thursday. Osborne will remain on the board and serve as special advisor to the company.

The announcement comes two months after Freedom exited Chapter 11 bankruptcy. As part of the reorganization, the company was relieved of $450 million in debt. It is now operating under new owners that include three investment firms and a group of banks.

Stern called his selection an honor and a “rare moment of luck.” He acknowledged challenges in the business, but expressed optimism.

“Now that Freedom has emerged from bankruptcy, it’s taking a very good set of assets and trying to make them that much better,” he said.

In three to five years, he said, he envisions more connection with local consumers and Freedom’s localism becoming “ultra-localism.”

When asked about his vision for small properties such as Freedom New Mexico, Stern said he finds small to mid-sized properties more interesting than large markets because they’re more connected with their customers and can make a big difference. He said he hopes to exchange ideas and work together.

Stern said he didn’t intend to alter the libertarian views expressed on the editorial pages of individual outlets. Instead, he said he would take an apolitical stance.

Stern was one of five new directors who joined Osborne on Freedom’s post-bankruptcy board. A seventh board member, Larry Kramer, founder of the financial website MarketWatch, was added earlier this month.

Stern brings to Freedom strong credentials in television and in building companies in a competitive environment. He joined Fox Television Stations in 1986 and rose to head the company and its Twentieth Century syndication arm from 1998 to 2003. He was vice president and station manager at KTTV/11 in Los Angeles from 1990 to 1992

Fox, which is owned by Rupert Murdoch’s News Corp., had 35 owned-and-operated stations, when Stern left.

Freedom has eight television stations, 27 daily newspapers and about 70 weekly newspapers, magazines and other specialty publications.

Portales News-Tribune Senior Writer Argen Duncan contributed to this report.