Local Owners Buy and Sell: Family owners agree to deals in Midwest and West; New England group goes home
Two longtime family owners based in the Midwest sold or agreed to sell their newspaper operations in the second quarter, while an investor group brought the Pittsfield (MA) Berkshire Eagle and other nearby publications back to local ownership.
These transactions and others were the highlight of a busy period that also saw a consolidation in the Tampa Bay region of Florida and several additional strategic acquisitions for growing newspaper companies.
New Media Investment Group, Ogden Newspapers, Paxton Media and Swift Communications were among the large newspaper group owners that added to their holdings in the April through June period.
New Jayhawk in Town
The Simons family of Lawrence, Kansas, agreed to sell their flagship daily Journal-World to West Virginia-based Ogden Newspapers. The transaction, which is expected to close in the third quarter, will end 125 years of ownership by the Simons family.
Separately, the family also agreed to sell its newspaper operations in Steamboat Springs, Colorado, and Payson, Arizona, to different buyers (see below).
The Kansas transaction includes the daily Journal-World, two weekly newspapers, a regional magazine publishing group and KUsports.com, among other websites. Lawrence is the home of the University of Kansas, whose Jayhawk basketball team is a perennial contender for the national title.
“In today’s business environment it is becoming increasingly difficult for a stand-alone, family-owned daily newspaper to compete and provide the product owners desire to produce,” said Dolph Simons Jr., editor of the Journal-World and chairman of The World Company, which owns the newspaper operation.
Wilford Collins Simons came to Lawrence in 1891 and acquired the Lawrence Record. Simons launched the Lawrence Journal in 1892 and acquired the Lawrence World in 1905.
H.C. Ogden started the Wheeling News in West Virginia in 1890, just one year before Simons began his newspaper career in Lawrence. Ogden Newspapers now owns 40 publications in 14 states. Ogden’s great grandsons, Robert and Bill Nutting, now lead the company.
In a separate transaction, the Simons family agreed to sell its operations based in Steamboat Springs, Colorado, to a unit of Swift Communications, which owns a number of publishing businesses in Colorado and other western states. The deal includes the Steamboat Pilot & Today, the nearby Craig Daily Press, Steamboat TV and a number of websites.
Nevada-based Swift Communications owns newspapers in mountain resort communities, including those in Glenwood Springs, Aspen, Summit and Vail in Colorado. Swift also owns newspapers and magazines in California, Nevada, Utah, South Dakota and Wisconsin.
The Simons family acquired Steamboat Today in 1994. Prior to that, it had been owned for three generations by the Leckenby family and by Raljon Publishing.
In its final transaction, the Simons family agreed to sell the Payson (AZ) Roundup to White Mountain Publishing, a unit of Kramer Publications based in Show Low, Arizona. The Simons family had owned the Arizona newspaper since 1994.
The Kramer family owns and operates newspapers in Casa Grande, Florence, Coolidge, Eloy, Arizona City, Maricopa and Show Low, all in Arizona.
The Truth or Dare
Paxton Media Group acquired the 14,700-circulation Elkhart (IN) Truth and related operations from the Dille family, which had owned the newspaper since the 1950s.
Paducah, Kentucky-based Paxton owns a number of newspapers in the region, including the La Porte County Herald-Argus and Michigan City News-Dispatch in northwest Indiana. Paxton also publishes the Herald-Palladium in St. Joseph, Michigan.
The Dille family will continue to own 15 AM and FM radio stations in Fort Wayne, South Bend and Warsaw, Indiana. The newspaper was managed by the family’s organization, Federated Media, which also runs the radio group.
Multimedia for New Media
New Media Investment Group acquired a Pennsylvania-based publisher of business journals that also has significant operations devoted to events, consumer publications and workplace data-based media.
The company, Journal Multimedia, includes print publications Central Penn Business Journal, Central Penn Parent, Lehigh Valley Business, NJBIZ and Pet Age magazine. In addition, the company produces Best Places to Work, Best Companies and Best Employers programs in nearly 60 markets worldwide.
Journal Multimedia was founded in 1984 with a single monthly publication for business in central Pennsylvania.
A group of local investors with strong ties to the region acquired the 21,100-circulation Berkshire Eagle in Pittsfield, Massachusetts, along with two dailies in Vermont and related publications.
The transaction included the Bennington Banner, Brattleboro Reformer and weekly Manchester Journal in Vermont. The newspapers were sold by local owners in 1995 to Dean Singleton’s MediaNews Group, now part of Digital First.
The principals in the new ownership group, called Birdland Acquisition, are three Stockbridge residents: John C. “Hans” Morris, former president of Visa Inc.; Frederic D. Rutberg, former Pittsfield District Court judge; and Robert G. Wilmers, chairman and CEO of M&T Bank. Stanford Lipsey, publisher emeritus of the Buffalo News, also is part of the group.
The Tampa Bay Times acquired its cross-town rival, the Tampa Tribune, and immediately consolidated operations under the Times banner.
The Tampa Bay region had been the scene of intense competition between the St. Petersburg-based Tampa Bay Times and the Tribune, based across the harbor in the city of Tampa. Tampa Tribune subscribers began receiving the Tampa Bay Times the day after the closing.
Other publications owned by the Tampa Tribune, including the daily Highlands Today and weekly Suncoast News will continue to be published by the Tampa Bay Times.
Revolution Capital bought the Tampa Tribune in 2012 as part of the sale of Media General’s newspapers, most of which were acquired by BH Media Group. Media General had owned the newspaper since 1966.
Tampa Bay Times is owned by the Poynter Institute, a nonprofit school for journalists. Until 1987, the Times and Tribune had served opposite sides of Tampa Bay with limited competition. At that time, however, the Times started a Tampa edition and opened offices across the harbor.
The Hour is Near
Hearst Connecticut Media Group added the last piece of Fairfield County in Connecticut with the acquisition of the Norwalk Hour and weekly Wilton Villager. Hearst also owns the Connecticut Post in Bridgeport, the Advocate in Stamford, the Greenwich Time and the News-Times in Danbury.
The Hour had been owned by the Nellie M. Thomas Trust. Nellie Thomas ran the newspaper from 1933 to 1961.
Gannett agreed to buy the outstanding shares of publicly traded ReachLocal, which will increase Gannett’s digital revenue by about 50% with the addition of the company’s $320 million in annual revenue.
ReachLocal, headquartered in Woodland Hills, California, provides digital services to small and medium businesses, including web presence, search, lead generation and advertising. ReachLocal’s largest vertical markets are home services, healthcare, automotive and professional services.
Local businessman Paul Huntsman bought the Salt Lake Tribune, which operates as part of a joint operating agreement with the Deseret News in Salt Lake City. As part of the deal, the Salt Lake Tribune’s share of JOA profits increased from 30% to 40%.