Momentum Continues in 3rd Quarter: Number of dailies sold already near post-2008 high for annual total
Newspaper transaction activity continued its strong pace in the third quarter, with the sale of both independent and group-owned operations.
Some of the most active acquirers in 2017, including Hearst Newspapers and New Media Investment Group, added to their holdings over the past three months. In the largest transaction of 2017, New Media bought the newspapers owned by Morris Communications for $120 million.
On the selling side, Civitas Media completed its divestitures, while local owners in Alabama, Maine and elsewhere continue the trend of independents being acquired by larger owners.
Scoring at the Masters
New Media bought Morris Communications’ 11 dailies and a number of other publications spread across Georgia, Florida, Texas, Kansas, Arkansas and Alaska. Family-owned Morris is headquartered in Augusta, Georgia, home of the Masters golf tournament.
The largest dailies in the transaction were the 44,750-circulation Jacksonville (FL) Florida Times-Union, the 26,860-circulation Augusta (GA) Chronicle and the 21,590-circulation Savannah (GA) Morning News. New Media also got Morris’s Main Street Digital group.
William S. “Billy” Morris III, chairman of Morris Communications, will remain as publisher of the Augusta Chronicle and will oversee editorial page policy for the three Morris newspapers in Georgia.
Billy Morris’ father, William S. Morris Jr., took a job as a bookkeeper at the Augusta Chronicle in 1929. In 1945, he bought a controlling interest in the newspaper. He acquired the remainder of the stock 10 years later along with the afternoon Augusta Herald.
The Augusta newspaper operation became the springboard to adding more newspapers, outdoor advertising, travel publications, magazines, book publishing, radio broadcasting, cable television and businesses in other industries over the next several decades.
Hearst Expands in IL
Hearst Newspapers created a new cluster in Illinois by adding two dailies and related publications to its operation in Edwardsville, located in the southwestern part of the state.
Hearst acquired the Alton Telegraph and Jacksonville Journal-Courier from Civitas Media, which is a portfolio company of Versa Capital Management in Philadelphia. Civitas had acquired the two dailies from Freedom Communications in 2012. Hearst has owned the Edwardsville Intelligencer since 1979.
The Journal-Courier is the oldest continuously published newspaper in Illinois. Alton was the scene of a famous pro-slavery riot prior to the Civil War in which an abolitionist newspaper editor was murdered.
Following the acquisition, Hearst Newspapers now owns 24 dailies and 64 weeklies across the U.S., in addition to a news magazine and several digital businesses.
Three More Civitas Deals
Civitas Media sold its Kentucky, Tennessee and Oklahoma newspapers in three transactions to bring its series of divestitures to a close. The company continues to own the Wilkes-Barre Times Leader in eastern Pennsylvania.
Graystone Media Group, led by veteran publisher Larry Miller, acquired the dailies Durant (OK) Daily Democrat and Altus (OK) Times along with related non-daily and niche publications in the southern part of the state from Civitas.
An Oklahoma native, Miller worked at newspapers in Seminole, El Reno and Edmond before joining the staff of the Daily Oklahoman. He left the state in 1984 to work for a variety of papers in Virginia, New Jersey, Pennsylvania and South Carolina.
Affiliates of Boone Newspapers bought the daily Middlesboro (KY) Daily News and two neighboring newspapers in eastern Kentucky and Tennessee. The deal included non-dailies in Harlan, Kentucky, and Tazewell, Tennessee.
The newspapers will be owned by newly formed entities of Carpenter Newsmedia and managed by Boone Newspapers. Todd Carpenter is Boone’s president and chief executive officer and is principal owner of Carpenter Newsmedia.
Carpenter has ownership in Boone affiliates in Kentucky, Mississippi, Alabama, Georgia, Louisiana, North Carolina, Texas and Virginia.
Separately, Paxton Media Group added a group of three newspapers in western Kentucky and Tennessee from Civitas. The newspapers include the Grayson County News-Gazette in Leitchfield, Kentucky; the News-Democrat & Leader in Russellville, Kentucky; and the Macon County Times in Lafayette, Tennessee.
Paxton, headquartered in nearby Paducah, Kentucky, owns more than 30 daily newspapers and numerous non-daily publications in Arkansas, Georgia, Illinois, Indiana, Kentucky, Louisiana, Michigan, Mississippi, North Carolina and Tennessee.
In a separate transaction, a Boone affiliate agreed to buy the daily Valley Times-News, which serves Lanett and Valley, Alabama, and West Point, Georgia. The newspaper complements Boone’s operations in LaGrange, Georgia, which it acquired from Civitas in 2016.
The Valley Times-News had been owned by Nell Walls and her late husband Tom Walls.
Pioneer News Group announced plans to sell its newspaper holdings to Adams Publishing Group, which has established a significant presence in the Northwest in recent years. The transaction includes seven dailies and 15 non-dailies in Washington, Oregon, Idaho, Montana and Utah.
Pioneer is owned by the Scripps/Wood family. It was formed in 1986 by James G. Scripps and is currently owned by Leighton Wood and his children and grandchildren.
The Adams newspaper group, based in Minneapolis, operates publications in 11 states. In addition to the newspaper company, Adams owns radio stations, outdoor advertising, a wine distribution business and a major interest in Camping World Holdings, which recently began trading in the public markets.
Reade Brower continued his march through the newspaper landscape in Maine with the acquisition of the Lewiston Sun Journal and group of weekly newspapers. The Sun Journal had been owned by the Costello family since 1898.
With the addition of Lewiston, Brower now owns four of the seven daily newspapers in Maine and numerous non-daily newspapers in the state. In 2015, Brower acquired the Portland Press Herald, the Kennebec Journal in Augusta and the Morning Sentinel in Waterville. He also owns the Courier Publications weekly group in the Mid-Coast region.
The Lewiston deal also included Sun Press, a commercial printing division.
Hitting the Slopes
Aspen Daily News founder Dave Danforth sold his newspaper to a newly formed company, Paperbag Media, based in the resort city. The new owners include the former general manager of the newspaper and a group of local investors who are Aspen real estate brokers.
Danforth founded the Daily News with two partners in 1978 in the form of a double-sided, 8-by-11-inch publication. It was Aspen’s only daily newspaper at the time. In 1984 the Daily News acquired a traditional newspaper press. A Sunday edition was added in1996.
Using the Aspen model, Danforth helped to launch other free distribution dailies in Conway, New Hampshire; Santa Monica, California; and Palo Alto, California.
Community Newspaper Holdings Inc. and broadcast television owner Raycom Media agreed to merge into a new privately held company. Both companies are based in Montgomery, Alabama, and are financed by the Retirement Systems of Alabama, which manages pension funds for state employees.
CNHI is one of the nation’s largest newspaper owners with operations in 22 states. Raycom owns or operates 65 television and two radio stations covering 44 markets in 20 states.
Pat LaPlatney, Raycom’s president and CEO, said synergies from the merger will “enhance our ability to deliver exceptional local content, extend our community presence and grow our respective multimedia footprints.”
Big City Tabs Sold
Venerable tabloid dailies in New York and Chicago found new owners in the third quarter.
In New York, the Daily News was sold to metro newspaper publisher Tronc, owner of the Chicago Tribune, the Los Angeles Times and other daily newspapers.
The Daily News had been owned for 25 years by New York real estate mogul Mort Zuckerman, who bought the newspaper in bankruptcy after it been sold by Tronc’s predecessor company, Tribune Co., to a British newspaper owner.
The Daily News will provide Tronc with a presence in the New York market and about 25 million unique monthly online visitors.
Tronc said it assumed the Daily News’ operational and pension liabilities and received 100% ownership of the newspaper’s Jersey City, New Jersey, printing plant and a 49.9% interest in the plant’s 25-acre property, which overlooks the Manhattan skyline.
Meanwhile in Chicago, an investment group led by Edwin Eisendrath and a group of labor unions acquired the Chicago Sun-Times, besting an overture from Tronc. The sale was supervised by the Department of Justice’s Antitrust Division.
The new owners include the Chicago Federation of Labor, other local labor unions and about a half dozen individuals.
The Chicago Sun-Times had been owned by Wrapports LLC since 2011, when the group acquired the tabloid and a group of suburban newspapers. The suburban newspapers were subsequently sold to Tronc.
Anchored in Anchorage
A federal bankruptcy judge approved the sale of the Anchorage (AK) Alaska Dispatch News to the Binkley family of Fairbanks for the $1 million the family had already loaned to the newspaper.
The seller, Alice Rogoff, acquired the newspaper and its real estate from McClatchy Co. in 2014 for $34 million. She later sold the real estate and was leasing it back at the time of the bankruptcy sale. She had plans to build a new production facility that never materialized.
The new owning company consists of four Binkley siblings and a business partner, who own three rural Alaska newspapers.