Whatever happened to Thomson Newspapers, the company that once owned
The London Times, several other papers in Britain and a chain of
small-town newspapers in America? The New York Times raised the
question – suggesting it may be today the biggest media company of
which most people have never heard. Almost a ghost-like company.
Thomson Newspapers sold most of its papers a long time ago but has
since turned itself into a major publishing company of a different sort
– a company that specialises in "high end electronic information" sold
by subscription to lawyers, financial traders, teachers and physicians.
Last year, according to The NY Times, the company had an income of
almost 9,000 million dollars, way ahead of Gannett, the biggest
newspaper company in North America. Almost as low key these days is the
Thomson family, who hold 70 per cent of the company's shares. When he
died recently Kenneth Thomson, grandson of the founder Roy Thomson,
according to Forbes Magazine, was worth almost $20,000 million – making
him the ninth richest person in the world.
Rarely does anyone in
the family give interviews. David Thomson, son of Kenneth, who
inherited the title of Lord Thomson of Fleet on his father's death,
shares that trait. When his father took over the company in 1976 the
company was worth, it is said, about $500 million. Now its worth almost
It was Roy Thomson, the Times reports, who set
up the two-tier system under which the company still operates: a
publicly traded company based in Stamford, Connecticut, and the
Woodbridge Company based in Toronto, which owns most of the family's
stake in its business activities That includes a 40 per cent stake in
Bell Globemedia, which owns the Toronto Globe and Mail as well as CTV,
Canada's largest commercial televsion network.
Ten years ago it
acquired the West Publishing Company, a supplier of "legal information"
based in Minnesotta, for a reported $3,400 million. The idea, it was
said, was to get into a business unaffected by swings in the economy,
delivering information that is absolutely essential for many people's
jobs. One of its divisions, for example, compiles stock analysts'
earnings. Another is a provider of case law for lawyers. While the
company's operations are not as glamorous as making movies, or for that
matter, publishing the London Times it is, the NY Times notes, one of
the world's quietest but most profitable media empires. As one Canadian
media company analyst, Andrea Horan, commented "If you ask most people
in the financial community if they know Thomson they won't. But they
all know their products."