4th Quarter 2015
Largest Deals Hit
More than half of the year’s dollar volume occurred in the fourth quarter, with the largest transactions involving many of the largest newspapers to change hands in 2015.
The quarter opened with an announcement that Gannett had agreed to buy Journal Media Group for $280 million. And it ended with the sales of three regional newspapers – the Las Vegas (NV) Review-Journal, the Erie (PA) Times-News and the Fredericksburg (VA) Free Lance-Star – in separate transactions.
In total, more than $500 million in newspaper deals happened in announced or closed transactions during the final three months. The Journal Media Group acquisition is expected to close in 2016.
We Hardle Knew Ye
Just six months after launching as a new, newspaper-focused public company, Journal Media Group agreed to be acquired by Gannett. Journal Media, with its flagship Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, was created from the merger of E.W. Scripps and Journal Communications.
Gannett will pick up 15 daily newspapers and 18 weeklies in 14 local markets in nine states. In addition to the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, the package includes the Memphis (TN) Commercial Appeal, the Naples (FL) Daily News, the Treasure Coast group in southeastern Florida and a number of dailies in Texas. Total circulation of Journal Media Group is approximately 675,000 daily and 950,000 on Sunday.
Gannett said the $280 million transaction will add $450 million in revenue and $60 million in adjusted EBITDA, including immediate synergies. Gannett also said it would add another $25 million in operating synergies over the next two years.
The transaction is undergoing an antitrust review by the Department of Justice. However, both companies expect the deal to close in the first quarter of 2016.
BH Bags Fredericksburg
BH Media Group added to its holdings in Virginia with the addition of the 31,700-circulation Fredericksburg Free Lance-Star.
The Fredericksburg market is located north of the state capital in Richmond, where BH Media also owns the Times-Dispatch. The acquisition was the second in Virginia for BH Media in 2015. Earlier in the year it picked up the Martinsville Bulletin in southwest Virginia.
The Free Lance-Star transaction included a large printing facility opened in 2010.
The Free Lance-Star had been owned by the Rowe family since the early 1900s. Its lender, Sandton Capital Partners, acquired the assets of the newspaper operation in June 2014 during a bankruptcy proceeding.
The sale of the newspaper and its printing facility represented the final divestiture for Sandton. Earlier in 2015 it sold radio and tower operations it also acquired in the bankruptcy.
Erie Sets Sail
New Media Investment Group agreed to buy another regional daily with longtime family owners. In mid-December, the Mead family entered into an agreement to sell the 40,000-circulation Erie Times-News to the public company, with the closing set to occur in January.
The parent company of the newspaper, Times Publishing Co., has been owned in part or in total by members of the Mead family since it was founded 127 years ago. New Media, the holding company for GateHouse Media, owns 490 publications in 31 states.
In making the announcement to the newspaper staff, John Mead Flanagin, chairman of the Times Publishing board, said, “This is the right time to adapt to the new environment and have the Erie Times-News and our digital business move into the future as part of a larger media organization.”
Erie, located on Lake Erie in the northwest corner of Pennsylvania, is the fourth largest city in the state.
Spin the Wheel in Vegas
Also in December, New Media sold one of its largest newspapers, the Las Vegas Review-Journal, which it had acquired earlier in the year as part of its purchase of Stephens Media.
New Media completed the $140 million sale to a new company, News + Media Capital Group LLC, which includes Michael Schroeder, owner of newspapers in Connecticut. The Las Vegas-based Adelson family provided the financing for the deal.
As part of the transaction, New Media will continue to manage the Review-Journal for the new owners.
The Review-Journal is Nevada’s largest newspaper. The deal also included five weekly newspapers, Luxury Las Vegas magazine, Best of Las Vegas and the website lasvegas.com.
At the same time, New Media announced that it had agreed to buy the Business Information Division of Dolan LLC, which publishes 39 newspapers in the legal, financial, real estate and government affairs sectors.
Paging Normal Mailer
A member of a venerable newspaper family bought the iconic Village Voice in New York City with plans to restore the journalistic greatness for which the newspaper was once known.
The Village Voice was acquired by a company controlled by Peter D. Barbey, president of the Reading (PA) Eagle and a member of the family that has owned the eastern Pennsylvania newspaper since 1796.
Founded in 1955 by Norman Mailer and others, the Village Voice is America’s first alternative newspaper. It has been a winner of Pulitzer Prizes and has published many famous writers in its history, including Allen Ginsberg, Ezra Pound, James Baldwin and Tom Stoppard. Underground cartoonists also have gotten their start in the newspaper, such as R. Crumb and Matt Groening.
In making the acquisition, Barbey said, “The Village Voice continues to be one of America’s great newspaper stories, and, to me, the Voice belongs to New York much more than it belongs to any individual owner. The Voice deserves to be the best it can be. We plan to expand resources, coverage and reach, in print and online.”
A group of former Village Voice Media executives acquired the Village Voice and 10 other publications in 2013 and formed Voice Media Group. VMG also has divested holdings in Minneapolis and St. Louis.
See here for an interview with Peter Barbey.
Taking Aim in Indiana
Jeremy Halbreich’s AIM group expanded into Indiana with the acquisition of family-owned Home News Enterprises. Home News owns community daily newspapers in Columbus, Greenfield, Franklin and Seymour, as well as a number of weekly and monthly publications in the state.
The new company, AIM Media Indiana, is an affiliate of Halbreich’s AIM Media Texas, which acquired Texas newspapers from Freedom Communications in 2012. Halbreich is the former chairman and CEO of the Sun-Times Media Group in Chicago and founder of American Consolidated Media in Texas.
The Brown family had owned newspapers in Indiana since 1872, when Isaac T. Brown founded the Columbus Republican. Home News Enterprises was formed in 1962 to make additional newspaper acquisitions.
Sample Goes West
Trib Total Media, owner of newspapers in the greater Pittsburgh area, sold two of its dailies and associated weekly newspapers east of the city to an affiliate of Sample Media Group.
Sample picked up the Kittanning Leader Times and the Connellsville Daily Courier, along with weekly titles generally clustered southeast of Pittsburgh. Sample’s existing holdings include the daily in nearby Latrobe.
Separately, Trib Total Media said it would close its daily newspapers in McKeesport and Monessen, south of Pittsburgh, after failing to find buyers for these two. Trib Total Media has been in the process of refocusing its business in the region following the death of its founder, Richard Mellon Scaife.
Trib Total Media will publish three editions of its flagship newspaper based in Greensburg: Tribune-Review Westmoreland edition, Tribune-Review Pittsburgh edition and Tribune-Review Valley News Dispatch edition.
Adams Takes Two
Adams Publishing Group continued to grow with the addition of newspapers in Idaho and Ohio in separate deals.
In Idaho, Adams acquired the daily Idaho Falls Post Register and three weekly newspapers from the Brady family. The Brady family had owned the Post Register since 1925.
In Ohio, Adams added the daily Defiance Crescent-News from Dix Communications. Dix had owned the Defiance newspaper since 1951.
Adams, owner of outdoor advertising, radio and other businesses, began to build its newspaper company in 2014 with the acquisition of assets in Ohio, Maryland, Minnesota and Wisconsin from American Consolidated Media.
Swift on the Slopes
Swift Communications added another ski resort market to its portfolio with the acquisition of the twice-weekly Park City (UT) Record from Digital First Media.
The Park City Record had been acquired by its current publishers Andy Bernhard and Dean Singleton in 1986, before being folded into Singleton’s MediaNews Group and ultimately Digital First.
Swift owns 27 newspapers in five states, including those in the resort markets of Snowmass, Aspen, Summit and Vail in Colorado, and Tahoe in California.
An affiliate of Boone Newspapers bought the central Kentucky newspapers owned by Schurz Communications, including small-market dailies in Danville and Winchester. Earlier in 2015, Boone acquired the Frankfort State Journal nearby.
The Fairbanks (AK) News-Miner and Kodiak (AK) Daily Mirror were sold to the Helen E. Snedden Foundation, which was created by the late wife of former News-Miner publisher Charles Snedden. Dean Singleton bought the Fairbanks newspaper from the Snedden family in 1992.
Peter Arundel, owner of the Loudon Times-Mirror in northern Virginia, acquired the assets of two competing newspapers in Leesburg and Ashburn. The Leesburg and Ashburn newspapers were sold to Texas-based HPR Hemlock LLC in 2012 as part of a larger transaction.
Separately, HPR Hemlock sold its Middleburg Life monthly in northern Virginia to satellite communications mogul and winery owner David Greenhill.