Independent Owners Sell in Third Quarter: Deal market remains active; family-owned companies among the busiest buyers
The newspaper industry saw a busy third quarter on the deal front, as a number of prominent independent owners decided to exit the business, while other family owners added to their holdings.
Among those selling their newspapers were the Waters family in Columbia, Missouri; the Borg family in Bergen County, New Jersey; the Andersen family in Minnesota; the Mitchell family in Vermont; the Jones family in eastern Tennessee; and family owners in Fayetteville, North Carolina.
Meanwhile, family-owned newspaper companies Ogden Newspapers, Paxton Media Group, Paddock Publications, Sun Coast Media Group and others made acquisitions in the third quarter.
In total, nearly 20 daily newspapers changed hands in the July through September period. Additional announcements are expected before the end of the year.
New Media Investment Group acquired the Columbia (MO) Daily Tribune to augment its significant presence in the state. Columbia is home of the University of Missouri Tigers. The transaction ended 111 years of ownership by the Waters family.
Prior to the deal, New Media owned 13 daily newspapers in Missouri, including those in Mexico, Boonville and Moberly, which are relatively close to Columbia. Columbia will be the largest city where New Media owns a daily in the state.
“We invested in the Tribune because we believe in Columbia, Missouri’s future,” Jason Taylor, president of New Media’s western division, said in making the announcement to the newspaper staff. “We believe in the newspaper, we believe in its people and we are excited that by leveraging the national resources of [New Media] we can take this local company to greater heights than ever before.”
The Waters family ownership of the newspaper began in 1905 when Margaret Waters got a loan for her brother to buy the Tribune. Hank Waters has written daily editorials since 1966 and will continue to do so following the ownership transition.
ECM Publishers, one of the largest family-owned non-daily groups in the U.S., was sold to Adams Publishing Group.
ECM, whose publications circulate in east-central Minnesota and western Wisconsin, was founded in 1976 by former Minnesota Gov. Elmer L. Andersen with the acquisition of two competing weekly newspapers. The group, owned by the Andersen family as well as an employee stock ownership plan (ESOP), had grown to 50 publications reaching more than 600,000 homes at the time of the sale.
ECM’s coverage area extends across much of central Minnesota and into western Wisconsin, encompassing rural and exurban communities, as well as growing suburban markets west and northwest of Minneapolis.
The group fit with Adams’s existing publications, which include publications in northern Minnesota and Wisconsin and areas south of Minneapolis/St. Paul.
ECM had made a number of acquisitions over the years to grow the company. The most recent, and largest, was the addition of a suburban group owned by American Community Newspapers in 2012. This purchase more than doubled the number of publications and provided ECM with a contiguous area of coverage in the Minneapolis/St. Paul region.
Ogden Takes Provo
Ogden Newspapers made its first foray into Utah with the acquisition of the Provo Daily Herald from Lee Enterprises.
The family-owned company based in West Virginia added the 20,000-circulation daily to its stable of 40 daily newspapers that now stretches from Florida to Hawaii. In June, Ogden bought the Lawrence (KS) Journal-World from the Simons family.
The Provo newspaper, founded in 1873, was purchased by James G. Scripps in 1926. Scripps League sold its newspaper holdings to Pulitzer Newspapers in 1996; Lee took over Pulitzer in 2005.
In making the announcement, Ogden CEO Robert Nutting called Provo “an exceptional and vibrant market.” Provo is home to the 29,000-student Brigham Young University and Utah Valley University, which has 33,000 students.
Gannett Gets North Jersey
The Borg family sold the Bergen County Record and related publications in northern New Jersey to Gannett Co., whose holdings now stretch the length of the state.
The Borg family had owned the Record for 86 years. The transaction included the Herald News, serving the Passaic area; 49 weekly newspapers; several magazines; and the NorthJersey.com website. The Record’s parent company, North Jersey Media Group, had expanded significantly in 1997 with the acquisition of the Herald News and associated non-dailies from MediaNews Group.
In New Jersey, Gannett also owns the Asbury Park Press, the Daily Record in Morristown, the Courier News in Somerville, the Home News Tribune in Middlesex County, the Courier-post in Cherry Hill and Daily Journal in Vineland.
Gannett said the deal would bring about $90 million in annual revenue. Following the acquisition, Gannett operates 109 dailies in 34 states in the U.S.
New Media Goes Airborne
In a separate transaction, New Media Investment Group acquired the family-owned daily in Fayetteville, North Carolina, home of the U.S. Army’s Fort Bragg and the iconic 82nd Airborne division.
The 200-year-old Fayetteville Observer joins a large group of North Carolina newspapers owned by New Media, including the Wilmington Star News (which is printed in Fayetteville), New Bern Sun Journal and Kinston Free Press in the southeastern portion of the state where Fayetteville is located.
The transaction includes a printing operation and the Iwanna classified advertising publications based in Asheville, North Carolina, and Greenville, South Carolina.
The newspaper had been owned by the Lilly family since 1923. Charles Broadwell, publisher at the time of sale, was a grandson of Ashton Lilly, who was the company’s longtime board chair.
Hearst Hits Houston
Hearst Newspapers added a large suburban publishing group to its metro daily Houston Chronicle with the acquisition of Houston Community Newspapers (HCN) from 10/13 Communications.
The HCN group includes the daily Conroe Courier north of Houston and 23 weekly newspapers serving communities such as The Woodlands, Magnolia, Tomball, Humble, Katy and Sugarland.
10/13 Communications, based in Arizona, acquired the Houston suburban group in 2012 from ASP Westward. The company will continue to own and operate publishing groups in the greater Dallas, Phoenix and Tucson markets.
Paddock Grows in IL
Paddock Publications, owner of the Daily Herald in Chicago’s Arlington Heights area, moved down state with the acquisition of a group of small-market newspapers from New Media Investment Group.
The transaction included a combination of 12 daily and weekly publications serving seven counties in southern Illinois.
The Daily Herald is one of the longest family-owned newspapers in the country and has been published in the Chicago suburbs since 1872.
Adams Moves South
In its second transaction of the third quarter, Adams Publishing Group acquired Jones Media, a family-owned operation with newspapers in eastern Tennessee and western North Carolina.
The Jones newspapers will be the southernmost owned by Adams, whose operations are located in Minnesota, Wisconsin, Ohio, Michigan, Wyoming, Idaho and Maryland.
Jones newspapers include those in Greeneville, Athens, Marysville and Newport in east Tennessee, and Boone and Blowing Rock in North Carolina. The Jones family has owned newspapers in the region for more than 100 years.
The Coast to the Highlands
Sun Coast Media Group, the south Florida publishing company owned by the Dunn-Rankin family, bought the daily Highlands Today from the Tampa Bay Times following the Times’ takeover of its cross-bay rival Tampa Tribune earlier this year.
Sun Coast merged Highlands Today with its competing Highlands News-Sun. The newspaper serves Highland County in central Florida, which includes the communities of Sebring and Avon Park, among others.
The Dunn-Rankin’s flagship newspaper is the Sun, based in Charlotte Harbor.
New England Expansion
The owner of Portland (ME) Press Herald and other newspapers in Maine bought a family-owned operation in Vermont to expand his holdings in New England.
Reade Brower, owner of Maine Today Media, and a partner, Chip Harris, acquired the Rutland Herald, Barre-Montpelier Times Argus and related publications from the Mitchell family. The Mitchells had owned the Rutland newspaper since 1947 and the Barre-Montpelier publication since 1964.
In addition to the Press Herald, Maine Today Media owns the Kennebec Journal in Augusta, the Morning Sentinel in Waterville, the Coastal Journal in Bath and a number of non-daily newspapers along Maine’s midcoast region.
Forum Communications augmented its publishing group in eastern Minnesota and western Wisconsin with the addition of newspapers owned by Helmer Printing.
The footprints of Forum’s RiverTown group and Helmer’s publications were nearly identical, serving communities southeast of St. Paul and across the Mississippi River in Wisconsin. Family-owned Helmer will continue to operate its commercial printing business.
New Media Adds Business Journal
New Media has entered into a definitive agreementto acquire the Rochester Business Journal (RBJ), adding to its stable of B2B publications.
RBJ will become part of BridgeTower Media, the business publication platform of New Media Investment Group. Other New Media properties in the Rochester area include the Daily Messenger in Canandaigua and the Messenger Post weeklies and Daily Record in Rochester.
For nearly three decades, the Rochester Business Journal has served as the dominant source of local business news and information.
New Media Chief Executive Officer Michael E. Reed said, “This acquisition marks our third B2B media acquisition in the past nine months and accelerates our expanding commitment to providing exclusive business information at a local level.”
Paxton Expands in IN Again
After buying the Elkhart Truth in northern Indiana earlier this year, Paxton Media Group headed south to add the Princeton (IN) Daily Clarion.
Paxton acquired the Princeton daily along with two non-dailies – one in Indiana and one just across the state line in Illinois – from Brehm Communications. Among its newspaper holdings, Paxton owns nearby dailies in Vincennes, Indiana and Owensboro, Kentucky.
The two other newspapers involved in the transaction were the Mt. Carmel (IL) Register and Boonville (IN) Standard.