1st Quarter 2015
New Media, BH Keep Growing: Alt weeklies also seeing increased deal activity
Newspaper deal activity kept up a solid pace in the first quarter, with five transactions involving daily newspapers.
The largest of these was the sale of Stephens Media to New Media Investment Group for $102.5 million, bringing with it a new flagship for New Media – the Las Vegas Review-Journal. Some of the other active buyers in recent years, including BH Media Group, also made strategic acquisitions in the first part of 2015.
Elsewhere, longtime newspaper owner Rupert Phillips and his family re-entered the business with the acquisition of a group of newspapers in Missouri and Arkansas. And two deals involving alternative weeklies continued a trend toward changing ownership in this corner of the publishing world.
Viva Las Vegas
New Media kept up its torrid pace of newspaper acquisitions in the first quarter, closing on Stephens Media and its eight dailies and 65 non-daily publications in seven states.
The deal represented New Media’s second transaction with Little Rock, Arkansas’ Stephens family in recent months. Late in 2014, New Media paid $280 million for Florida-based Halifax Media Group, which also was owned principally by Stephens family interests.
Stephens Media was anchored by the 127,000-circulation Las Vegas Review-Journal, which became New Media’s largest newspaper ahead of the Providence (RI) Journal, the previous leader of New Media’s pack, added in 2014.
In addition, the Stephens group included the Fort Smith (AR) Southwest Times Record, daily circulation 31,000; the Sherman-Denison (TX) Herald Democrat, daily circulation 19,800; the Asheboro (NC) Courier-Tribune, daily circulation 10,200; the Columbia (TN) Daily Herald, daily circulation 9,600; and three other dailies.
Following the deal, New Media owns 134 daily newspapers, more than other U.S. company. Since September 2013, New Media and affiliates have completed $538.8 million in newspaper acquisitions. In public filings, the company says its goal over the next two years is to reach $1.0 billion in acquisitions.
The Stephens family bought Donrey Media in 1993 to form the core of what later was renamed Stephens Media. Donrey had been built by Arkansas media owner Donald Reynolds.
Need for Speed
The Martinsville (VA) Bulletin, home of NASCAR’s Martinsville Speedway, joined the BH Media family at the end of March.
For BH Media, the 12,250-circulation daily and neighboring thrice-weekly in Rocky Mount, Virginia augment a region in which it already has a considerable presence. BH Media also owns the Roanoke Times, Danville Register & Bee and Lynchburg News & Advance in southwestern Virginia, as well as the Winston-Salem Journal, Greensboro News & Record and a number of nearby non-dailies in North Carolina, across the Virginia line. (See map).
The Martinsville Bulletin had been owned by the Haskell family since 1948. The late Elizabeth Haskell served in the cabinet of former Virginia Gov. L. Douglas Wilder and was a prominent figure in state and local politics.
Headquartered in Omaha, Nebraska, BH Media now owns more than 30 daily newspapers and related non-dailies in 10 states.
You Can Go Home Again
The Phillips family returned to publishing with the acquisition of a group of community newspapers in Arkansas and Missouri, as well as printing operations in Missouri and Oklahoma, from Community Publishers, Inc., based in Bentonville, Arkansas.
The group includes the Harrison Daily Times and Newton County Times in Arkansas, as well as several non-daily newspapers in the Springfield area of Missouri. In addition, the transaction includes commercial printing operations in Missouri and Nowata, Oklahoma.
The Phillips family has been involved in newspaper publishing since the 1970s, and previously owned newspapers in Arkansas and Missouri. Ryan Phillips, son of longtime newspaper owner Rupert Phillips, will head the new company, Phillips Media Group.
Community Publishers, owned principally by members of the Walton family, was founded in 1982 with the purchase of the Bentonville (AR) Daily Democrat.
Changing ownership in the alternative weekly newspaper segment continued in early 2014 with several deals taking place.
Affiliates of Broad Street Media acquired the South Philadelphia Review and Philadelphia Weekly. Broad Street publishes a number of non-daily publications in the area, including the Northeast Times and Star in Philly, the Midweek Wire in Bucks County and others.
The alternative weeklies had been owned by Review Publishing for 27 years prior to the sale.
Separately, Review Publishing sold its Atlantic City Weekly to BH Media, owner of the daily Press of Atlantic City. The 33,000-circulation free weekly covers arts and entertainment, casinos, nightlife and dining for the resort area.
More Alt Activity
Euclid Media Group, formed in 2013 with the acquisition of four alternative weeklies in major markets, added the Riverfront Times in St. Louis to its stable. The Riverfront Times had been owned by Voice Media Group, the nation’s largest owner of alternative weeklies.
VMG had owned the St. Louis newsweekly since 1999, winning numerous national and regional journalism awards.
Euclid’s other titles include the Cleveland Scene, the Detroit Metro Times, the San Antonio Current and the Orlando Weekly.
In a separate transaction, Copperfield Publishing of Salt Lake City bought JH Weekly, a newsweekly serving Jackson Hole, Wyoming.
A number of other alternatives have changed hands over the past 12 months. Tribune Publishing bought the Baltimore City Paper. Also, Dan Pulcrano’s Metro Newspapers acquired the Santa Cruz Good Times in California.
Veni Vidi Vici
The owners of the Marietta (GA) Daily Journal were the successful bidders for the neighboring Rome (GA) News-Tribune and weekly operations in a bankruptcy auction.
The deal included the daily News-Tribune, as well as weeklies in northwestern Georgia and eastern Alabama.
The Brumby family of Marietta, which has been in newspaper publishing since 1916, will take over from Burgett Mooney, III, whose family had been publishing the Rome newspaper since 1928. Mooney will remain a consultant as part of the transaction.
The Rome News-Tribune is one of Georgia’s oldest newspapers, first published in 1844. The Mooneys began acquiring the weekly newspapers in 1980.
El Centro Takes Center Stage
Schurz Communications sold the daily El Centro (CA) Imperial Valley Press and related publications to an investment group affiliated with the owners of the daily newspapers in nearby Yuma, Arizona, and elsewhere in California.
Also included in the deal were 12 weekly shopper publications covering numerous communities in California, Arizona and Nevada, including Yuma, Lake Havasu and Parker in Arizona and Riverside, Imperial and San Bernardino counties in California.
Schurz had owned the El Centro daily since 1966.
Northwest Arkansas Newspapers, jointly owned by WEHCO Media and the Stephens family, consolidated its five newspapers in the region into a single title – the Northwest Arkansas Democrat-Gazette. The individual newspaper nameplates will continue to be published as the second section of the new regional newspaper.