New Media Leads Busy Q1: 16 transactions mark one of the most active quarters in recent years
The first three months of 2018 saw an extraordinary amount of newspaper deal activity, with 16 separate transactions involving daily newspapers announced. The number of deals was more than some entire years since 2008.
New Media Investment Group, through its subsidiary GateHouse Media, was the most active in the quarter, landing four daily newspaper acquisitions. These included dailies in Eugene, Oregon; Austin, Texas; and West Palm Beach, Florida.
In addition, Tronc agreed to sell the Los Angeles Times and San Diego Union-Tribune to company investor Patrick Soon-Shiong.
The majority of the sellers in the first quarter were family owners of single newspapers or regional groups in a continuation of a trend that has been playing out over the past two years. Owners of smaller operations have struggled in a challenging environment without enough scale to find new revenue sources and consolidate operating functions.
In total, 21 daily newspapers changed hands in the first quarter in deals worth more than $750 million.
New Media Takes Cox Dailies
New Media struck separate deals to buy two mid-sized daily newspapers from Cox Enterprises, the 85,000-circulation Austin (TX) American-Statesman and the 78,000-circulation Palm Beach Post in West Palm Beach, Florida.
The two newspapers will be among the largest owned by New Media, which has grown through acquisition since going public in 2014. The combined purchase price for the two newspaper operations was $96.75 million.
The Texas transaction included a non-daily community newspaper group around Austin, a Spanish-language weekly and related digital offerings such as Austin360, 512tech and hookem.com. Cox had owned the Austin daily for 41 years.
New Media operates the Center for News and Design in Austin, which provides content services – including centralized copy editing and page design, web development, niche content products and training – to its own newspapers and commercial clients.
Austin became the eighth daily owned by New Media in Texas. New Media’s acquisition of Morris Publishing’s newspapers in 2017 included the Amarillo Globe-News and Lubbock Avalanche-Journal in west Texas.
In addition to the Palm Beach Post, the Florida transaction included the daily Palm Beach Daily News serving Palm Beach proper. The Palm Beach Daily News is known locally as the “Shiny Sheet” because it has been printed on bright-white newsprint since 1897.
New Media will own 13 dailies in Florida with this acquisition. Many of them were acquired as part of its purchase of Halifax Media in 2014. Cox bought the Palm Beach Daily News in 1968 and the Palm Beach Post separately in 1969.
Eugene Joins New Media
On the West Coast, New Media acquired the family-owned, 46,000-circulation Eugene (OR) Register-Guard. Eugene is home of the University of Oregon.
The Register-Guard had been owned by the Baker family since 1927, the year Alton Baker Sr. purchased the Eugene Guard. He merged the Guard with the Eugene Register in 1930.
The Register-Guard is only conventional daily newspaper owned by New Media in Oregon. It is the largest daily in the company’s Western operations.
Dozens of Baker family members have been involved in the Eugene newspaper business over the years, including its chairman and former publisher Tony Baker, Alton Sr.’s grandson.
At the time of the sale Baker said independent owners were hard-pressed in the current newspaper climate.
“We’ve come to the realization that in today’s business environment it’s increasingly difficult for a stand-alone, family-owned daily newspaper to compete successfully and continue to provide products the owners are proud to deliver,” Baker said in announcing the sale. “Larger media companies have the necessary resources and are better suited to adapt to the fast-changing dynamics of the newspaper industry.”
One More Daily for New Media
Its fourth deal of the quarter augmented New Media’s holdings in central Massachusetts. The company bought the daily Gardner News from Alberta Bell, who has run the newspaper since 1992. It had been in the family since 1921.
The Gardner News serves seven cities and towns in northern Worcester County. New Media’s Telegram & Gazette in the city of Worcester is southeast of the Gardner News’ markets. In the first quarter New Media also acquired the Holden Landmark newspapers, non-dailies serving markets between Worcester and Gardner.
Paging Dr. Soon-Shiong
Tronc agreed to sell its West Coast operations, including the Los Angeles (CA) Times and San Diego (CA) Union-Tribune, to local billionaire Patrick Soon-Shiong, a health care mogul and former surgeon. The transaction is for $500 million plus the assumption of $90 million in pension liabilities.
Dr. Soon-Shiong became a major Tronc shareholder two years ago as part of the company’s efforts to thwart Gannett’s takeover attempt. He is part-owner of the Los Angeles Lakers as well.
For the Los Angeles Times, the deal represents a return to local ownership. The Chandler family sold the Times Mirror Co. to Tribune Publishing (predecessor of Tronc) in 2000. Tronc acquired the San Diego daily in 2015.
Several metro dailies are now owned by individual business people, including the Washington Post by Jeff Bezos, the Boston Globe by John Henry, and the Minneapolis Star Tribune by Glen Taylor.
Wick Buys and Sells
Arizona-based Wick Communications acquired the family-owned Wenatchee (WA) World in central Washington, its first newspaper in the Evergreen State.
The newspaper was in the third generation of family ownership, having been acquired by the Woods family 111 years ago. Wick Communications also is in its third generation of family ownership.
The deal includes a significant commercial printing business located in a separate downtown Wenatchee facility. Wick owns newspapers in Arizona, Alaska, California, Colorado, Idaho, Louisiana, Montana, North Dakota, Oregon and South Dakota. Wick CEO Francis Wick said he saw the Wenatchee market as a “vibrant and exciting region.”
Rufus Woods, who has been publisher since 1997, will remain as a columnist for the newspaper. His grandfather acquired the World in 1907 and gained national fame for his promotion of the Grand Coulee Dam and Columbia Basin Project. His son Wilfred published the paper from 1950 until 1997.
Separately, Wick sold its daily newspaper in Roanoke Rapids, North Carolina, to Paxton Media Group, which owns six other dailies in the state. Paxton’s closest daily is the Henderson Daily Dispatch, about an hour away.
It was Wick’s only East Coast newspaper. Paxton Vice President Jamie Paxton said the Roanoke Rapids Daily Herald will be in a better position to serve readers and advertisers by combining strengths with those of other Paxton newspapers in the area.
Ogden Adds Byrd in VA
The Byrd family, which has a storied history in Virginia politics and newspapers, sold its operations in the state’s Shenandoah Valley to West Virginia-based Ogden Newspapers, owned by the Nutting family.
Ogden added the daily newspapers Winchester Star and Harrisonburg Daily News-Record, as well as four weekly newspapers to a growing tri-state cluster (see map above). Last year Ogden acquired the nearby Frederick (MD) News-Post. It also owns the Northern Virginia Daily in Strasburg and the Martinsburg (WV) Journal in the region. Ogden bought the Martinsburg newspaper from a previous generation of Byrds in 1912.
Five generations of the Byrd family have owned and operated the Winchester Star and, eventually, the Harrisonburg Daily News-Record since Richard E. Byrd, speaker of the Virginia House of Delegates bought the Winchester newspaper in 1897.
Interestingly, the Byrd and Nutting families share similar histories. Thomas W. Byrd, general manager of the Winchester Star, and Cameron Nutting Williams, regional publisher for Ogden’s area newspapers, both represent the fifth generations in their respective family businesses. H.C. Ogden started publishing the Wheeling (WV) News in 1890, seven years before the Byrds got started.
Subsequent Byrd family owners of the newspapers included Adm. Richard E. Byrd Jr., a pioneering American aviator and polar explorer in the 1920s and 1930s. Byrd’s expeditions were the first to reach both the North Pole and the South Pole by air.
Harry F. Byrd Sr. served as Virginia’s governor from 1925 to 1929 and U.S. Senator from 1933 to 1965. Although Byrd never announced as a U.S. presidential candidate, he was drafted into multiple elections. He received tens of thousands of votes in the 1956 presidential election and 15 electoral votes in the 1960 election.
The third generation of the family, Harry F. Byrd Jr., continued his father’s legacy by serving in the Virginia Senate for many years before being appointed and then elected to his father’s seat in the U.S. Senate, which he held until 1983.
Growing in West Virginia
The owners of the Huntington (WV) Herald-Dispatch and several partners bought the state capital newspaper in Charleston through a bankruptcy proceeding, making the company a major player in the state.
HD Media, along with the owner of the Clarksburg (WV) Exponent-Telegram and others, acquired the Charleston (WV) Gazette-Mail for $11.487 million from the Chilton/Shumate family. The 38,000-circulation Gazette-Mail is the state’s largest newspaper.
Last year, HD Media and its managing partner Doug Reynolds acquired four West Virginia newspapers from Civitas Media, including small dailies in Logan and Williamson.
The Gazette-Mail won a Pulitzer Prize in 2017 in investigative journalism for reporting on West Virginia’s opioid crisis.
The newspaper was forced to sell its assets through a bankruptcy process due to liabilities related principally to an underfunded pension plan and bank debt. The family had owned the Gazette since 1912. The family acquired all of the economic interests in a joint operating agreement that ran the Gazette and Daily Mail in 2004. The Gazette and Daily Mail were merged in 2015.
Southern Crosses into OK
Texas-based Southern Newspapers added the 16,000-circulation Lawton (OK) Constitution to its stable of newspapers.
The Lawton daily had been owned by brothers Brad and Bill Burgess since 2012, when they acquired the newspaper from longtime local owners Steve and Don Bentley. The Burgess brothers practice law and own other businesses in Lawton.
Lawton became the 16th newspaper owned by Southern and its first in Oklahoma. All of the others are in Texas and Alabama.
In announcing the sale, Southern CEO Lissa Walls said she sees Lawton as a “beautiful, dynamic community with a great future.”
Shaw Bulks Up in IL
Shaw Media acquired the Ottawa (IL) Times from Small Newspaper Group to augment its holdings in northern Illinois.
Shaw now owns eight dailies in the region, including the Crystal Lake Northwest Herald, the Joliet Herald-News, the DeKalb Daily Chronicle and the Dixon Telegraph, among others.
Both the buyer and the seller have been family-owned publishers based in northern Illinois for multiple generations. Small had owned the Ottawa newspaper 80 years.
Shaw, founded in Dixon, Illinois, in 1851, owns publications in Illinois and Iowa. It also owns magazines, Pro Football Weekly, websites, a video production unit and a digital marketing operation.
Boston Herald Joins DFM
Digital First Media became the new owner of the iconic Boston (MA) Herald, paying just under $12 million for the tabloid in a bankruptcy auction.
Digital First, owner of the former MediaNews Group and Journal Register Co., will add the Boston Herald to its existing Massachusetts operations in Fitchburg and Lowell. The sale ends more than two decades of ownership by Patrick Purcell.
Digital First beat out two other bidders in the bankruptcy auction, New Media Investment Group and Revolution Capital Group.
The original Boston Herald was founded in 1846 by a group of Boston printers who published a single, two-sided sheet. In 1982, the Herald American was bought by Rupert Murdoch’s News Corp., which changed the name back to the Boston Herald. News Corp. was forced to sell the Boston Herald in 1994 in order to consummate its acquisition of a Boston television station. Patrick Purcell, then publisher of the newspaper, was the buyer.
AIMing for Ohio
Jeremy Halbreich’s AIM Media Midwest expanded its western Ohio operations with the acquisition of the family-owned daily Bowling Green Sentinel-Tribune.
The Haswell family had owned the Bowling Green newspaper for more than 118 years. Family member Karmen Concannon will remain publisher.
In 2017, AIM Media bought the Ohio print and online newspaper publishing assets and the commercial printing assets of Civitas Media LLC. The transaction included 17 daily newspapers (16 in Ohio and one in West Virginia), 15 weekly publications and a variety of specialty publications including shoppers and magazines. The largest daily newspaper in the group is the Lima (OH) News.
New England Swap
Sample News Group sold its newspapers in southern Maine to Reade Brower and added some in Vermont in a move that made sense geographically for both companies.
Brower’s RFB Enterprises added Sample’s dailies in Biddeford and Brunswick, Maine, along with several non-daily publications. With the acquisition, Brower now owns six of the seven dailies in Maine, including the Portland Press Herald.
Sample bought the Barre-Montpelier (VT) Times Argus and Rutland (VT) Herald from Vermont Community Media, in which Brower is a partner.
Sample had owned papers in Maine for 20 years; Vermont Community Media bought the Barre-Montpelier and Rutland papers in 2016.
Along the Ohio
Champion Media, owner of newspapers in North Carolina, South Carolina, Ohio and Minnesota, acquired the 3,000-circulation Maysville (KY) Ledger Independent from Lee Enterprises.
Lee got the Maysville newspaper from its acquisition of Howard Publications in 2002. Champion owns non-dailies across the Ohio River in southern Ohio from Maysville.