06-30-02 | Printable Version

Family Grows with Big Acquisition

New Generation Takes Bold Step in Lawrence

Chip Rogers didn't expect the opportunity to come so soon. But when it did, the fourth generation scion of a venerable newspaper family had his company ready to take advantage.

In the largest deal of the second quarter, Rogers’ Eagle-Tribune Publishing Co. in Lawrence, Massachusetts, acquired three neighboring daily newspapers from Ottaway Newspapers, Inc., for $70 million.

The three newspapers, with combined daily circulation of nearly 60,000, are located on the North Shore area above Boston. Known as Essex County Newspapers (“ECN”), the group consists of the Salem Evening News, the Newburyport Daily News, and the Gloucester Daily Times.

With the acquisition, the Eagle-Tribune now controls one of the largest newspaper markets in New England, spanning 55 communities and 310,000 households in Massachusetts and New Hampshire, and has doubled its daily circulation.

The company’s four daily newspapers, including the flagship Eagle-Tribune with circulation of 55,000 daily and 61,000 Sunday, will cover all of Essex County.

“I always thought we had the potential to grow the company,” said Rogers. “When the Essex County opportunity presented itself, we decided it was one we couldn’t pass up.”

Irving E. “Chip” Rogers, III, took over as president and publisher of the Lawrence Eagle-Tribune in May 1998 following the death of his father.

The newspaper, which has been owned by the Rogers family since 1898, has a long and distinguished history that includes a Pulitzer Prize for coverage of the Willie Horton furlough story in 1988 and recognition as a Pulitzer finalist in 1992 and 1996. But the company had not grown much beyond its newspaper’s borders.

After taking charge of the company, Rogers, 41, immediately began laying the groundwork for growth by talking with other family members and assembling a team of key executives from both within the company and from outside.

The company acquired the daily Haverhill (MA) Gazette in 1998, which it later converted to a non-daily publishing cycle, and a 40,000 paid weekly based in New Hampshire in 2001. The company also expanded its commercial print operation and invested $10 million in an expanded distribution center in Lawrence.

The im-provements to its mailroom will allow the Eagle-Tribune to consolidate production of the four daily newspapers at the North An-dover plant in August. The Eagle-Tribune completed a web reduction project on its press in June.

The final piece to the growth plan was hiring a key executive with experience making large acquisitions and running larger newspaper companies. Following the retirement of a longtime general manager, Rogers tapped Richard M. Franks to become executive vice president and chief operating officer.

Franks is a 24-year newspaper veteran, having served in top management positions at both metro and community newspaper companies. He has partnered with financial backers in the acquisition and management of various newspaper groups in Michigan and Texas. Franks and the company’s chief financial officer, Ronald J. Polina, headed the Lawrence acquisition team.

“The one thing that I can remember my father saying time and time again is that the secret to running a successful business is to hire the best people that you can find and let them do their jobs,” said Rogers.

In addition to production synergies, the company eliminated management and back-office duplication between the two operations. Most areas now have a single department head for the combined operations. Some were Eagle-Tribune employees, some came from ECN, and some were hired from outside the two companies.

As part of the reorganization, Walter E. Rogers, another fourth-generation family member, became vice president of real estate and development.

Management also believes there will be significant opportunity to cross-sell advertising among the dailies and non-dailies.

“We are trying to look at this as one, 120,000-circulation daily newspaper with strong complimentary weekly products,” Chip Rogers said. “There is a great opportunity going forward of selling classified and retail advertising in combination.”