1st Quarter 2008
New York Times, Media General Make Strategic Acquisitions
WEHCO Media’s agreement to buy the state capital newspaper in Jefferson City, Missouri highlighted the deal activity in the 1st quarter, which slowed considerably from record 2007 levels.
Walter Hussman’s Little Rock, Arkansas-based company’s newspaper holdings will now include the state capital dailies in adjacent states.
Meanwhile, other newspaper owners continued to make strategic acquisitions of dailies and non-dailies to strengthen and expand publishing groups.
GateHouse Media made news on both the buy and sell sides, shedding two of the dailies it acquired late last year from Morris Communications and buying non-dailies in Delaware and western New York.
New York Times Co. and Media General were among the strategic acquirers, both augmenting clusters in the Southeast.
In total, just six daily newspapers changed hands in the quarter in four separate transactions. The deal flow has slowed in part because of difficulties in the U.S. credit markets.
WEHCO Heads North
At the end of March, WEHCO announced an agreement to buy the 18,000-circulation Jefferson City daily, along with a smaller daily in neighboring Fulton and a paid weekly.
The Jefferson City daily has been owned by the Weldon family since 1927 and was run for many years by Betty Weldon prior to her death in 2007.
The publishing group will be WEHCO’s first in Missouri, although in some ways Jefferson City resembles a smaller version of Little Rock. Both are historic state capitals perched on the banks of major rivers – Jefferson City on the Missouri and Little Rock on the Arkansas.
WEHCO will now own 11 daily newspapers, most of them in Arkansas. The company also owns the Chattanooga (TN) Times Free Press, which it acquired from the McDonald family in 1998.
In making the announcement, Hussman said he did not expect to make any immediate changes at the newspapers. The deal is expected to close by May 1.
NYT Adds Winter Haven
The Winter Haven (FL) News Chief was acquired by the New York Times Co., which owns the neighboring daily in Lakeland.
The New York Times immediately consolidated printing and other functions for the Winter Haven daily at its Lakeland operation and moved the News Chief’s personnel into the Lakeland bureau office in the market.
The News Chief, founded in 1911, will continue to be published as a separate daily newspaper.
The New York Times bought the Winter Haven daily from GateHouse Media, which had acquired it in 2007 from Morris Communications as part of a larger transaction. It was previously owned by Multimedia Inc. and Stauffer Communications before being sold to Morris in 1994.
Local Ownership in Yankton
GateHouse also sold the Daily Press & Dakotan in Yankton, South Dakota and related publications to a group headed by the newspaper’s publisher. The Yankton group was part of the Morris acquisition as well.
Publisher Gary Wood’s partners in the transaction are Robb Hicks and Gary Stevenson, who are investors in other newspapers in Wyoming and Montana.
The Yankton group includes a paid weekly in neighboring Vermillion, home of the University of South Dakota, and three controlled-distribution products.
GateHouse on the Buy Side
Meanwhile, GateHouse added two non-daily groups in the 1st quarter. The Fairport, New York-based company bought the free-distribution Dover Post and related publications serving communities in central Delaware.
In addition, GateHouse acquired a pennysaver group east of Rochester, NY near its daily newspaper in Canandaigua.
Florence SC Group Grows
Richmond-based Media General bought a neighboring twice-weekly to expand its footprint around the Florence (SC) Morning News.
The Messenger, serving the city of Hartsville and surrounding communities, will join Media General’s Carolina Publishing Group, which includes the Morning News, three weeklies and a regional web site, scnow.com. Media General also owns a broadcast television station serving the Florence-Myrtle Beach market.
The Messenger will supplement the coverage of the daily in the greater Pee Dee region of South Carolina.
The Hartsville Messenger had been owned by members of the Osteen family, which also owns the daily Sumter (SC) Item. The Osteen family will continue to own and operate the daily in Sumter.
Osteen Publishing bought the Messenger in 1995 from local owners. Graham Osteen, co-president of Osteen Publishing, became editor and publisher of the Messenger in 1997.
Harris Sells Two Dailies
Harris Enterprises, a privately owned newspaper company based in Kansas, sold two of its smaller dailies to Jerry Turner’s Family Media.
The two dailies involved in the transaction were the Parsons (KS) Sun and Chanute (KS) Tribune.
Harris had owned the Chanute paper since 1927; it was the second newspaper in the group. The company added the Parsons daily in 1982.
Harris owns other newspapers in Kansas and Iowa, including 30,000-circulation dailies in Hutchison and Salina, Kansas.
Family Media, based in Miami, Oklahoma, owns non-dailies in Mississippi, Illinois and Florida, as well as two newspaper trade magazines and a television station.
Perrotto Buys Iowa Weeklies
Small-market newspaper owner Larry Perrotto acquired Audubon County Newspapers in western Iowa. The non-daily group is adjacent to Perrotto’s daily in Atlantic, Iowa.
Included in the sale were three weekly publications – the Audubon County Advocate Journal, a paid weekly; a controlled-distribution weekly that supplements coverage in the county; and a common advertising section published as part of the Advocate Journal and other weekly newspapers in the area.
Perrotto’s Community Media Group, based in West Frankfort, Illinois, owns dailies and non-dailies in Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Michigan, New York and Pennsylvania.
Jack Fishman’s Lakeway Publishers bought a group of three weekly newspapers in central Virginia. Last year Tennessee-based Lakeway acquired a non-daily group serving a series of communities in eastern Virginia.
The new acquisition includes non-dailies in Goochland, Hanover and other areas between Richmond and Charlottesville.
Lakeway publishes 24 newspapers, including the daily Morristown (TN) Citizen Tribune, and six magazines.
Main Street Media Group acquired three non-daily publications in southern California and has renamed its publishing group there San Diego Suburban Newspapers.
San Diego Suburban Newspapers now publishes nine weekly newspapers with about 120,000 distribution. Main Street also owns newspapers in the Bay Area.
The Pomerado Newspaper Group acquired the Poway (CA) News Chieftan, the Rancho Bernardo (CA) News Journal and the Corridor News.
Mark Samuels, the former publisher of the Logan (OH) Daily News, acquired the weekly Enterprise in Ponchatoula, Louisiana from local owners.
Samuels said he planned to outsource most functions other than news and ad sales. The weekly also will be reformatted to a long tabloid.