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CONRAD BLACK'S SOUTHERN TIER PAPERS DOWNPLAY HIS TROUBLES <br> HOLLINGER SUING ITS EX-CEO FOR $380 MILLION

Lord Conrad M. Black resigned from management of media chain Hollinger International a year ago, but the British peer is still a press baron in Olean, in nearby Salamanca and in Bradford, Pa.

In these communities about 75 miles south of Buffalo, Black and partners bought newspapers from Hollinger in 2000, when he ran the media chain.

That deal is one of several that Black and his lieutenant F. David Radler used to loot $380 million from the company they headed, Hollinger charged in a lawsuit filed in Chicago earlier this year. The company is expected to file a revised lawsuit on Monday, after a judge threw out racketeering claims that could have tripled the damages.

Black and Radler deny the charges.

Based in Chicago, Hollinger International prints the Chicago Sun-Times, the Jerusalem Post, and several local papers in Canada and in the Chicago area.

The scandal has made international headlines. But in the communities on the New York-Pennsylvania border where Black's papers are the major source of local news, his name -- and the local connection to the controversy -- is largely unknown.

"I'm shocked I didn't hear anything about it," said Renato "Ray" Attard, owner of Attard's Restaurant in Olean, the largest of the three communities. "We get a lot of lawyers" and other in-the-known customers, he said.

Olean Mayor William Quinlan said he's not aware of Conrad Black's local link either, and doesn't remember seeing it covered in the local paper or other news outlets.

"I haven't seen anything about it," he said.

Black, with partners Radler and John Satterwhite, bought the papers for $35.6 million in 2000 as owners of a company called Bradford Publishing, according to court papers. Hollinger charges that Black and Radler undervalued the newspapers and caused Hollinger to finance some of the purchase, while misleading the board of directors about the deal.

Satterwhite, who with family members owned 50 percent of Bradford Publishing, isn't named as a defendant in the lawsuit. He now owns 25 percent, having sold part of his stake to Larry Perrotto, a former executive of a Hollinger unit, according to a report filed by a committee of Hollinger's board.

Black and Radler have denied wrongdoing, saying the Bradford deal and others were reviewed by Hollinger's board of directors. Black has filed libel charges in Canada against Hollinger.

In the communities south of Buffalo, the controversy raises questions about how a newspaper covers its owners. Publishers of the three papers say they print wire service coverage of the Hollinger scandal, but that it isn't a local story. But journalism teachers said that papers risk their credibility if they avoid or downplay stories about themselves.

Combined, the Olean Times Herald, Bradford Era and Salamanca Press have daily circulation of about 30,000, according to an industry journal. A weekly published in Salamanca was also part of the Bradford Publishing deal, court papers said.

The Conrad Black scandal "should have been more prominent" in the Olean Times Herald, said Lee Coppola, dean of journalism at nearby St. Bonaventure University.

Charges of wrongdoing against a far-off owner shouldn't reflect on a newspaper's reputation, but downplaying the story is another matter. "Then, you're risking the credibility that your readers should have in you," he said.

Patrick Vecchio, former editor of the Times Herald and now a journalism teacher at St. Bonaventure, said he thinks Conrad Black affair would be treated as a major story in Olean if it had involved another local company.

"When it's your (company), I think you have to apply similar standards," he said.

Vecchio noted that the Times Herald was credited as being one of few news outlets to report Black's part-ownership of the company that bought the papers in 2000. Black's stake in Bradford Publishing wasn't even known by Hollinger's board of directors when they approved the sale, according to the company's lawsuit.

More recently, the Olean paper carried a lengthy wire service story about a Hollinger report detailing accusations against Black, Vecchio said. And in Pennsylvania, the Bradford Era printed a front-page story last spring about the British Broadcasting Corp. doing research in the area for a program about Black, he said.

Satterwhite, publisher of the Bradford Era, said his policy is to run Associated Press stories on Hollinger, and to note the local connection. He declined to comment further, citing legal advice.

Olean publisher Roy D. Biondi referred questions to Satterwhite.

Kevin Burleson, publisher of the Salamanca paper, said he doesn't think area residents are interested enough in the story, whose main figures are in Chicago and London, to treat it as a local matter.

"Owners are hundreds or thousands of miles away . . . I just don't think the readership cares," he said.

Company higher-ups haven't laid down any rules about handling the Hollinger story, and the affair doesn't influence the paper's operations, Burleson said.

Newspaper owners are mainly concerned with profits, "whether it's Warren Buffett owning The Buffalo News or Conrad Black owning 50 percent of the Salamanca Press," he said. (Buffett is chairman of Berkshire Hathaway Corp., which owns The Buffalo News.)

But it's not as though the Olean area is too polite to take an interest in a juicy scandal.

When the Rigas family in nearby Coudersport, Pa., was accused of looting Adelphia Communications, people were buzzing about it at Ray's Barber Shop on Union Street, stylists and customers said. And the basketball recruiting scandal at St. Bonaventure also had tongues wagging.

There's no similar buzz about Conrad Black and his stake in the local paper, stylist Elisa Tejera said.

"It's not shocking at all," she added about Hollinger's charges. "It seems like people have no morals anymore."

Several readers said they haven't heard much about the Olean paper's ownership since it passed out of local hands to chain owners.

"Of course I knew the Fitzpatricks," said Gary Williams, referring to the local family that owned the paper for decades until the 1980s. Former city engineer for Olean, Williams said he subscribes to the paper and reads local stories closely.

The things that concern him about the Times Herald are complaints heard about many papers, he said. "It seems like there's less and less news, more and more advertising," he said.

The revised lawsuit Hollinger expects to file Monday will drop Bradford Publishing as a defendant, Hollinger said in a statement earlier this month. However, the accusations of self-dealing against Black and Radler will remain and be added to in the revised lawsuit, the statement said.

e-mail: fwilliams@buffnews.com

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