Halifax deal ends busy year
New Media Investment Group capped an active first year as a public company with its fourth-quarter announcement that it agreed to acquire Halifax Media Group for $280.0 million.
After the Halifax deal closed in January 2015, New Media had completed $430 million in newspaper acquisitions in approximately a year, and it is continuing to look for additional opportunities to add to its growing portfolio.
Also in the fourth quarter, New Media added a family-owned daily adjacent to its newspaper in Portsmouth, New Hampshire. Boone Newspapers and Tribune Publishing ended 2014 with newspaper deals as well to round out active years for both of those companies.
New Heights for New Media
New Media’s deal for Halifax, which included 24 daily newspapers with about 635,000 in daily circulation, was the largest deal of 2014 by far, and the largest since the beginning of the recession.
Halifax, whose owners included Stephens Capital Partners, longtime newspaper owner Rupert Phillips and veteran operator Michael Redding, got its start in 2009 when it acquired the 78,000-circulation Daytona Beach (FL) News-Journal.
It made a significant move in 2011 when it bought the regional newspaper group of the New York Times Co., which included 14 daily newspapers primarily in Florida and other areas of the Southeast. It later added newspapers in the Southeast owned by Freedom Communications.
The Halifax dailies will become some of the largest newspapers owned by New Media, such as the Sarasota (FL) Herald-Tribune, Lakeland (FL) Ledger and Wilmington (NC) Star-News.
Mike Reed, New Media president and CEO, said the acquisition, “further diversifies News Media’s business from both a geographic and customer standpoint. These markets also present a tremendous opportunity for New Media to expand its digital businesses, Propel and BestRide.”
Separately, New Media bought the nation’s only daily newspaper with the name of the owners in the masthead – Foster’s Daily Democrat in Dover, New Hampshire. New Media owns the neighboring Seacoast Media Group based in Portsmouth, which had been printing the Foster publications for about 18 months.
The deal included the weeklies Rochester (NH) Times and Sanford (ME) News and Eastern Marketing Services, a direct-mail operation.
The Foster family had owned the daily for 142 years. It was founded by Joshua L. Foster, a “States’ Rights Democrat” and Lincoln critic whose office was ransacked by a mob and his equipment thrown into the water. He later sued the federal government over the incident and used the money awarded to start the Foster’s Daily Democrat.
Sisters Patrice Foster and Cathy Hayward were the fifth generation of the Foster family to own the newspaper. Their father, Robert Foster, transformed the small newspaper into a regional daily after returning from military service in World War II and Korea.
Deep in the Heart
Boone Newspapers returned to Texas with the acquisition of the daily Port Arthur News and neighboring Orange Leader in the southeastern region of the state. Boone had been one of the owners and managed a group of community newspapers in central Texas called Boone/Narragansett until it was sold in 2000.
Port Arthur and Orange had been owned by Community Newspaper Holdings, Inc., which acquired the newspapers in 1998 from American Publishing as part of a larger transaction.
The Port Arthur News is published daily and Sunday with weekday circulation of 8,100. The Leader is published twice weekly with paid circulation of approximately 3,000.
The acquisition was made by Boone affiliates that are owned principally by Todd Carpenter, president and CEO of Boone Newspapers. Carpenter’s companies have ownership in Boone affiliates in Mississippi, Alabama, Georgia, Louisiana, North Carolina and Virginia.
Tribune Publishing, owner of the Chicago Tribune, bought the suburban Chicago newspapers owned by rival Sun-Times Media in a bid to expand its footprint in the region.
The deal included six daily newspapers and 32 weeklies, as well as a long-term agreement to continue printing and distributing the Chicago Sun-Times. Following the sale, Sun-Times Media will consist of the Chicago Sun-Times and the free weekly Reader, along with its digital assets.
Since being split from Tribune’s television assets, Tribune Publishing has been aggressive in adding regional publishing operations that complement its metro dailies. The company also has bought strategic newspapers around Baltimore, Maryland and Hartford, Connecticut.
The suburban Chicago group includes the dailies Southtown Star, Merrillville Post-Tribune, Aurora Beacon-News, Elgin Courier-News, Naperville Sun, Lake County News-Sun and the weekly Pioneer Press newspapers.
Community newspaper owners Scott Wesner and Scott Wood, who were high school classmates, bought two newspapers in southeastern Kansas in separate deals.
Wesner and Wood acquired the Independence (KS) Daily Reporter, with weekday circulation of 4,800, from local owners. Separately, the two added the non-daily Coffeyville Journal, which they got from the Sumner publishing group.
Wyoming Newspaper Group sold the Worland (WY) Northern Wyoming Daily News to newspaper owners Robb Hicks and Gary Stevenson and their families. Wyoming Newspaper Group continues to own a number of newspapers in Wyoming.