1st Quarter 2009
2009 Starts Stronger
Family-owned companies, private equity firms, entrepeneurs wade in
After one of the slowest deal years in recent memory, newspaper acquisition activity picked up in the first three months of the year.
Announcements concerning the sale of seven daily newspapers were made in the first quarter, despite worsening economic conditions nationally and a continuation of difficulties in the credit markets.
Buyers who took advantage of opportunities in a down market included two family-owned newspaper companies, a former newspaper executive turned entrepreneur and a private equity firm new to the world of daily print.
These buyers uniformly expressed optimism about the future of businesses built around the dissemination of local news and information, in some cases through the creation of larger geographic footprints. Many of the acquisitions in the first quarter expanded existing print holdings.
Sweet Home Alabama
The Shelton family, fourth-generation newspaper owners in northern Alabama, bought the neighboring Florence (AL) TimesDaily and its companion websites and magazines from The New York Times Company.
The Shelton’s Tennessee Valley Printing Company, which has owned the Decatur (AL) Daily since it was founded in 1912, made its first major newspaper acquisition with the deal. The Decatur operation also owns the weekly Moulton (AL) Advertiser.
Both the Decatur and Florence markets are located in the Tennessee River valley, about 50 miles apart. The Florence newspaper has daily circulation of 27,800 and Sunday circulation of 29,000. The Decatur Daily circulates more than 20,000 copies daily and Sunday.
“We are confident this transaction will strengthen both newspapers through the synergies we will achieve,” Clint Shelton, general manager of the Decatur Daily, said in announcing the deal. “The long traditions of both newspapers of providing leadership in the Tennessee Valley will continue.”
In acquiring the TimesDaily, the new owners will own a state-of-the-art high-speed production facility with the capacity to print both newspapers. A high-speed color press was installed in 1997, direct computer-to-plate imaging technology was added two years ago and a high-speed inserter was installed in 2008.
The TimesDaily was purchased from Worrell Newspapers by The New York Times Company in 1982.
New Kid on the Block
A former Newsday executive and one-time publisher of a free daily in Boston acquired two daily newspapers in Connecticut from Journal Register Company.
Michael Schroeder formed a new company, Central Connecticut Communications, to buy The Bristol Press and The Herald of New Britain, along with the combined Sunday Herald Press. The deal also included three nearby weekly newspapers: the Wethersfield Post, the Newington Town Crier and the Rocky Hill Post.
The Bristol Press, circulation 8,300, and New Britain Herald, circulation 8,500, have been published continuously for more than 130 years.
Schroeder moved to central Connecticut from Long Island to take over as publisher of the newspapers. After a career as a newspaper and magazine executive, he mostly recently had been publisher of the free daily BostonNOW.
More JRC Deals
In addition to the Connecticut sale, Journal Register Co. sold the weekly Hershey (PA) Chronicle to the owners of the Sun in neighboring Hummelstown. Following the transaction, the operations merged and the Sun began serving the subscribers of the Hershey Chronicle.
In a separate deal, JRC sold the assets of the Cadillac Buyers Guide to the family owners of the Cadillac Evening News, parent company of the daily Cadillac (MI)âï¿½ï¿½News and the Northern Michigan News, a total market coverage publication
Rust Never Sleeps
Rust Communications, a family-owned company based in Cape Girardeau, Missouri, added the daily Monett (MO) Times and a companion shopper to its growing stable of newspapers and radio stations.
Rust acquired the 4,000-circulation daily from Cleveland Newspapers, owned principally by Lee Walls, Jr. and his family.
The Monett Times serves a rural market in southwest Missouri near Springfield. Other Rust newspapers in the region include the Cassville (MO) Democrat and a group of newspapers in northeast Arkansas clustered around the Carroll County (AR) News.
Walls had owned the Monett Times since 1972. His company continues to own daily newspapers in Kansas, Georgia, Mississippi, Tennessee and Alabama.
Rust Communications was founded in 1967 by Gary Rust, who remains chairman of the company. Two of his sons, Jon K. Rust and Rex D. Rust, serve as co-presidents. Rust has full or part ownership of 19 dailies, 30 weeklies and 17 radio stations in eight states.
San Diego Goes Platinum
Private equity firm Platinum Equity reached an agreement to buy the 270,000-circulation San Diego Union-Tribune, the last newspaper owned by privately held Copley Press.
Since its founding in 1995, Beverly Hills, California-based Platinum Equity has made more than 100 acquisitions in a variety of industries, but this is the first in the newspaper industry.
In making the announcement in March, Platinum principal Louis Samson acknowledged the challenges facing newspapers, but vowed to “bring a strong operational focus that helps ensure the Union-Tribune not only survives in this market, but thrives.”
Canadian publisher David Black, no stranger to tough operational challenges, will be part of the Platinum team in San Diego. Black bought the Honolulu Star-Bulletin in 2000 and has competed directly with a larger daily newspaper in the market ever since. His U.S. holdings also include a large non-daily group in the Pacific Northwest and the Akron (OH) Beacon-Journal.
Copley was founded 80 years ago, and its holdings included newspaper clusters in Illinois and Ohio, as well as elsewhere in California. The company sold its Midwest newspapers in 2007 to GateHouse Media.
Boulder Rolls Along
MediaNews Group announced plans to take full ownership of the Boulder (CO) Camera and related publications from E.W. Scripps Co.
The announcement came as Scripps closed the Rocky Mountain News in Denver, which had been part of a Joint Operating Agreement with MediaNews’ Denver Post. MediaNews and Scripps were 50-50 partners in the Boulder operation, as they were in the Denver JOA.
The Boulder operation also includes the Colorado Daily (a free-distribution newspaper serving Boulder) and Broomfield Enterprise.
Scripps acquired the Boulder Camera from Knight Ridder in 1997 as part of a newspaper swap. Scripps added the Colorado Daily in 2005. The Boulder partnership with MediaNews was formed in 2006, and shortly thereafter shifted production to the Denver plant.
Other Deal News
Steve Hungerford’s Country Media bought the twice-weekly St. Helens (OR) Chronicle and Sentinel Mist from a local owner.
Hungerford now owns five non-dailies on Oregon’s Pacific Coast. His company also has eight other non-daily newspapers in the Upper Midwest.
Brown Publishing Co. acquired the Business Ledger, a 10,000-circulation business newspaper in Naperville, Illinois.