Strategic buyers continue to cluster, independent buyers continue to emerge
Deal activity has continued in 2021, despite the COVID-19 pandemic that is finally starting to release its hold on the country. More than 100 newspapers have changed hands during the first six months of the year.
Nearly half of that total was included in Paxton Media Group’s recently announced acquisition of Landmark Community Newspapers. Tribune Publishing shareholders also approved Alden Global Capitol’s bid to buy its chain of major dailies.
On the weekly newspaper side, national headlines were made when Colorado Community Media sold their group of two dozen hyperlocal suburban newspapers to a newly created public benefit corporation called the Colorado News Conservancy. That acquisition added fuel to the emerging non-profit newspaper ownership concept that has been gaining ground for months.
In addition, numerous small weekly and daily newspapers changed hands, with local and independent owners taking the reins in several instances.
Paxton Acquires Landmark Papers
Paxton Media Group (PMG) acquired Landmark Community Newspapers LLC, a chain of 44 weekly and two daily newspapers based in Shelbyville, Kentucky.
The Landmark purchase includes 20 Kentucky publications, including papers in Elizabethtown, Shelbyville, Shepherdsville, Lebanon and Bardstown, among others. Paxton Media Group will now own 37 newspapers throughout Kentucky, including dailies in Owensboro, Madisonville, Hopkinsville, and its headquarters city of Paducah.
Paxton also operates WPSD-TV, the NBC-affiliated TV station based in Paducah that serves the Paducah-Cape Girardeau-Harrisburg Designated Market Area (DMA). It is the only television station owned by PMG.
PMG was founded in 1896 when a group of investors headed by W. P. Paxton launched The Paducah Sun, a newspaper in Paducah, Kentucky. Jamie Paxton, PMG’s current president and CEO, represents the fifth generation to run the family business.
Landmark Community Newspapers traces its roots to 1966 when a group of eight local newspaper publishers decided to pool their resources and purchase a printing plant. The company was incorporated as Newspapers Inc. two years later. Newspapers Inc. was then purchased by Landmark Communications in 1973.
With the purchase of Landmark, PMG now has 119 publications in 14 states. The Landmark deal included papers in Virginia, North Carolina, South Carolina, Florida, Tennessee, Indiana, and Iowa.
PMG’s purchase of Landmark continues the company’s ongoing effort to acquire community newspapers in the company’s existing geographic footprint, said Mike Weafer, publisher of the Owensboro (KY) Messenger-Inquirer and PMG’s group publisher for the Kentucky-Indiana region.
“Acquisitions strengthen us and help us to persevere, so it is part of an overall strategy to continue to acquire newspapers,” said Weafer.
Phillips Media Buys Two
In March, the Quincy (IL) Herald-Whig and Hannibal (MO) Courier Post were sold to Phillips Media Group, LLC, headquartered in Arkansas.
Quincy Media had owned and published the Herald-Whig for almost 95 years and acquired the nearby Hannibal Courier Post in 2019.
Quincy Media also announced the sale of its television and radio stations to Gray Television. That sale, subject to federal regulatory approval, is expected to be complete in the third quarter of 2021.
Quincy Media began as Quincy Newspapers, Inc. in 1926, with the merger of The Quincy Herald and Quincy Whig-Journal. That merger brought together the Oakley and Lindsay families, whose descendants continue to be involved in ownership to this day.
Wick Communications Adds in South Dakota
Wick Communications, a third-generation family-owned and operated media company based in Sierra Vista, Arizona, acquired The Madison (SD) Daily Leader. The Daily Leader had been published by the Hunter family for 75 years and was founded in 1880.
Francis Wick, president and CEO of Wick Communications, said, “It's an honor to carry on the task of local journalism for Madison and the surrounding areas. Newspapering is key to the health and vitality of a local community, and what Jon and the superb team here at The Daily Leader have created is meaningful.”
The Leader is the second newspaper in the state of South Dakota for Wick, which also owns the state capital paper, the Pierre Capital Journal.
Tucson Group Finds New Home
Tempe, Arizona-based Times Media Group acquired Tucson Local Media from Thirteenth Street Media.
Tucson Local Media includes the 37-year-old Tucson Weekly, bi-monthly Inside Tucson Business, and four community newspapers, including The Explorer.
Times Media Group is led by Steve Strickbine, a former CPA, who now owns more than 30 publications in Arizona and California.
His other Arizona publications include the East Valley Tribune, Scottsdale Progress, College Times, Ahwatukee Foothills News, and West Valley View. Several of these were acquired from Thirteenth Street Media in 2016.
Column Adds Strategic Partners
Column, the new public notice platform for local newspapers and their customers, added several strategic partners. The Washington Post was the company’s first major enterprise publisher, which signed on in September 2020.
Since then, Column has added partnerships with McClatchy Company, Adams Publishing Group, Wick Communications, Ogden Newspapers, Swift Communications, and several state press associations.
CNHI Acquires Twice-Weekly
CNHI, LLC acquired The Transylvania Times of Brevard, North Carolina.
The Transylvania Times is the latest addition to Montgomery, Alabama-based CNHI, which operates 90 community newspapers, websites, and niche publications in 22 Midwest, Southeast, Southwest and Northeast states.
The North Carolina paper’s history dates to July 1, 1887. It has been owned by the Anderson and Trapp families since 1941 and publishes twice a week.
Located 35 miles south of Asheville, the City of Brevard and Transylvania County are the tourism, retirement and cultural center of Western North Carolina.
Colorado Deal Makes National Headlines
Jerry and Anne Healey sold Colorado Community Media, their group of two dozen hyperlocal suburban newspapers, to a newly created public benefit corporation called the Colorado News Conservancy.
The Colorado News Conservancy is jointly owned and operated by The National Trust for Local News (NTLN), a nonprofit that ensures local news organizations remain in local hands, and The Colorado Sun, an online-only, Denver-based publication created in 2018 by former Denver Post journalists.
National media outlets picked up the story as an example of an emerging new ownership model. In a statement, Jason Alcorn, vice president of learning and impact for the American Journalism Project, said this Colorado newspaper purchase “will offer a national model for how local newspapers held in the public trust can continue to serve their communities through organizational collectives and the backing of philanthropy.”
Funding for the deal came from a public charity called FJC, which makes nonprofit loans. Guaranteeing that loan is the Denver-based Gates Family Foundation, The Colorado Trust, and the American Journalism Project.
A grant from the Colorado Media Project, a grant-funded initiative that advocates for journalistic innovation, supported a portion of the legal costs and connected NTLN to local funders. Operational support is being provided by the Knight Foundation, a national arts and journalism philanthropic group; the Google News Initiative, which partners with local news organizations; and the Democracy Fund, a nonpartisan foundation that seeks to strengthen civic engagement. None of the foundations will have any say over CCM’s content or editorial direction.
The 24 newspapers serve eight counties in the Front Range of Colorado. Seven of the titles had just been acquired by the Healeys from Landmark Community Newspapers in October 2020.
Alden/Tribune Deal Approved
In May, Tribune Publishing shareholders approved Alden Global Capital’s $633 million bid to buy the newspaper chain.
The deal will take Tribune Publishing private and add the Chicago Tribune, Baltimore Sun, Orlando Sentinel and more than a dozen other daily newspapers to the Alden/MediaNews Group portfolio.
When the deal closes on June 30, the New York-based hedge fund will be the second-largest newspaper owner in the United States behind Gannett.
O’Rourke Adds in Wisconsin
Wisconsin Media Group, LLC, an affiliate company of O’Rourke Media Group, announced in June it is acquiring Woodward Communications Inc.’s Unified Newspaper Group.
Unified Newspaper Group includes four weekly newspapers, websites, a shopper, a Hispanic publication, and other niche/lifestyle publications that serve the communities of Oregon, Verona, Fitchburg, and Stoughton, Wisconsin.
Woodward Communications acquired the papers in 1993 and 1998.
This deal follows O’Rourke’s acquisition in late 2020 of a weekly newspaper group in Minnesota from Forum Communications.
Guam Newspaper Sold to Former Lieutenant Governor
Former lieutenant governor, senator and local businessman Kaleo Moylan acquired the Pacific Daily News from subsidiaries of Gannett Co., Inc.
Moylan’s acquisition of the Pacific Daily News returns the media company to local ownership after 50 years of corporate stewardship by Gannett.
“Guam is my home, and I view this acquisition as a way to make our island and region stronger. With all the challenges we face today, an informed community is key to moving in the right direction,” Moylan said.
The newspaper had been owned by Gannett since 1971.
Better Newspapers Continues Growth
Better Newspapers Inc., owned and operated by the Hoskins family, acquired two newspapers in Taylorville, Illinois: The Breeze-Courier and The Shopping Spree.
The Breeze-Courier is the company’s first daily. The Lasswell family had owned the newspaper since 1894.
“This is an exciting time for us,” Greg Hoskins, owner and president of Better Newspapers, said in a statement. “My staff and I are looking forward to the challenges and, more importantly, meeting the needs of the community.”
Founded in 1991, Better Newspapers is a family-owned company that now runs 26 publications in Illinois and Missouri. They acquired two weeklies in 2020, one from Landmark Community Newspapers and one from a local family.
In 2012, Hoskins built a regional press plant in Altamont and uses it to print his own publications and other newspapers in the area. Hoskins’ wife Linda works in the firm’s editorial department. Son Scott Hoskins is the Metro East general manager, and Scott’s brother Mark is the regional manager for the press plant in Altamont.
Indiana Newspaper Revived
Hoosier Media Group’s Don Hurd has brought another shuttered newspaper back to life.
In March, it was announced he would resume publishing The Chesterton (IN) Tribune, which had ceased printing in December 2020. The paper, founded in 1884, came back as a twice-weekly with a fresh, full-color layout.
The Chesterton Tribune is the 20th paper owned by Hurd’s company. Most of the papers Hurd owns are in northern Indiana, including the Lowell Tribune and papers in White and Wabash counties, among other places.
In 2020, Hurd reopened the Daily Clintonian in Clinton, Indiana, after it had been briefly shuttered.
Vermont Newspapers Sold to Local Software Entrepeneur
Paul Belogour of Brattleboro acquired the Brattleboro (VT) Reformer, the Bennington (VT) Banner, the weekly Manchester (VT) Journal, and UpCountry Magazine. The Reformer and the Banner are daily newspapers published six days a week and printed five days.
The papers had been owned by New England Newspapers Inc., which acquired them from Digital First Media in 2016, along with the Berkshire Eagle in western Massachusetts.
Hans Morris, New England Newspapers Inc.’s chairman, said, “Paul Belogour is an impressive software entrepreneur, and over the past several years Paul has also made major investments in the Brattleboro/Guilford area. He clearly has the love of quality local journalism, and the skills and resources to ensure the essential role of the Reformer, the Banner and the Journal will thrive in these communities.”
According to Fred Rutberg, New England Newspapers’ publisher and president, “In 2016, our goal was to restore The Berkshire Eagle to local ownership and control, and with that ownership came our Vermont properties. So, when Vermont News and Media expressed interest, we saw it as an opportunity to bring local Vermont ownership to those publications. The sale will allow us to devote all of our energy and resources to The Berkshire Eagle.”
Mullen Adds in Idaho
Dan and Cindy Hammes, second generation family owners of the St. Maries (ID) Gazette Record, sold the newspaper to Jesse and Sasha Mullen of Deer Lodge, Montana.
The Gazette Record was founded in 1906 and purchased by the Hammes family in 1958.
Jesse and Sasha Mullen are owners of the Bitterroot Star, Silver State Post and Philipsburg Mail newspapers in Montana as well as the Browsing Bison bookstore chain. They acquired the Bitterroot paper in 2020.
Another Mullen Adds in North Dakota
J. Louis Mullen (brother of Jesse Mullen) also recently added papers to his growing stable with the purchase of The Hazen Star, The Beacon and The Center Republican in North Dakota.
The papers had long been owned by the Gackle family and BHG News, Inc. BHG continues to own the McLean County Independent, Leader-News and Central McLean News-Journal.
Mullen’s other newspapers in North Dakota include the Ransom County Gazette in Lisbon, the Sargent County Teller in Milnor, the Cass County Reporter in Casselton, the Traill County Tribune in Mayville and the Emmons County Record in Linton. Mullen also owns four papers in South Dakota.
CherryRoad Media Continues to Buy
CherryRoad Media, which made its first acquisition when it bought the Cook County (MN) News-Herald in late 2020, acquired Jade Media, publisher of the Mountaineer Echo in Flippin (AR) and the Marshall Mountain Wave in Marshall (AR).
CherryRoad Media is affiliated with New Jersey-based CherryRoad Technologies Inc., a national information technology firm.
Larry and Sharon Hiatt, publishers of the Columbus News-Report in Cherokee County, Kansas, acquired the Cherokee County News-Advocate and SEK Voice from Gannett Co., Inc. Both the News-Report and the News-Advocate serve Cherokee County and have been combined into a single publication.
Family-owned Haynes Publishing/Nor'West Newspapers, which operates seven small papers and a shopper in Kansas, acquired the nearby Rawlins County (KS) Square Deal.
Carrie Pitzer, owner and publisher of Pitzer Digital based in Neligh, Nebraska, acquired The Stanton (NE) Register in March. The paper, established in 1879, is the third weekly newspaper for Pitzer.
Jennifer Allen, former publisher of The Hot Springs Village Voice in Arkansas, acquired the paper from Gannett Co., Inc. Allen has been in the newspaper business for 32 years and is the former general manager and publisher of several Gannett papers in the state, including the Voice.
Maggie McGuire acquired the Moab (UT) Sun News. Maggie joined the paper as managing editor in 2019.
The North Coast Journal Inc. – a media company that includes a 15,000-circulation weekly newspaper and website, plus nearly a dozen publications serving Humboldt County, California – was sold to Melissa Sanderson. Melissa has worked for the company since 2014, first as sales manager and the past three years as general manager.