U.P.I.: Look Back in Sorrow

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Published: December 24, 1989

Down to the Wire - UPI's Fight for Survival. By Gregory Gordon and Ronald E. Cohen. Illustrated. 429 pp. New York: McGraw-Hill Publishing Company. $19.95.

...Losing millions a year, the E. W. Scripps Company began to try to sell U.P.I. in the early 1980's. There were few serious takers. Reuters, the British news service, made a pass, but in 1982 Scripps ended up dealing with an unlikely pair of entrepreneurs to take over a major news service: Douglas Ruhe and William Geissler, "complicated young men, a strange blend of idealism, arrogance, anger, bluster," in the authors' view.

With little real journalism experience, Mr. Ruhe and Mr. Geissler were the first of an oddly assorted group of entrepreneurs who fought for control of U.P.I. The pair might not have had much experience, but they knew how to make a deal. To get U.P.I. off its hands, Scripps sold the service to them in 1982 for $1, and then tossed in a "$5 million loan" that, according to the authors, "became an outright gift."

At this point, the struggle over U.P.I. turned into a free-for-all. There were firings and rehirings; suits and countersuits; fights with unions and fights with lenders. There were ''Downholds,'' the legendary U.P.I. edicts, flashed over the wire, that announced that the company was tightening, if that was possible, the squeeze on spending. Creditors demanded their money. Mr. Ruhe and Mr. Geissler put U.P.I. into debt and, reluctantly, went into bankruptcy in 1984.

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