12-31-05 | Printable Version

4th Quarter 2005

Liberty Stays on Growth Path, Buys Four Dailies in Fourth Quarter Deals

The new owners of Liberty Group Publishing are keeping their promise to make the company bigger.

The community newspaper publisher added four daily newspapers in two separate deals in the fourth quarter, pushing the total number of dailies owned by Liberty to 71. Liberty ranks third in terms of number of daily newspapers, just behind Gannett Co. Inc. and Community Newspaper Holdings Inc.

New York-based Fortress Investment Group LLC bought Liberty Group Publishing in June, saying at the time they planned to get the company’s acquisition machinery back in gear.

The newspapers acquired by Liberty were among eight dailies that changed hands in the fourth quarter. An expansion of an existing partnership between Gannett and MediaNews Group also occurred as the year neared its end.

Colorado and Arkansas

Liberty made its first foray into Colorado with the purchase of the Telluride Daily Planet, La Junta Tribune-Democrat and associated non-dailies from Virginia-based Womack Publishing Co.

The Daily Planet is a free-distribution daily serving the growing resort area in southwestern Colorado. The Tribune-Democrat serves a more rural market in the southeastern part of the state.

Womack bought the Telluride daily in 2001, and added the La Junta operation in 2002. The company plans to focus on growth in its Virginia and North Carolina publishing groups.

Liberty also expanded its holdings in Arkansas with the acquisition of the Hope Star, Arkadelphia Daily Siftings Herald and related weeklies. Liberty already owned dailies in Helena and Stuttgart in the eastern part of Arkansas.

The Hope and Arkadelphia newspapers has been owned by HarborPoint Media, which acquired them as part of a larger deal in 2004 involving newspapers in Florida and suburban Washington, D.C.

Partnership Grows

Gannett and MediaNews Group each threw their respective Pennsylvania newspapers into the existing Texas-New Mexico Newspaper Partnership.

Dean Singleton’s MediaNews Group contributed the York (PA) Daily Record and York (PA) Sunday News, the Lebanon (PA) Daily News and the Hanover (PA) Evening News. Gannett contributed its Chambersburg (PA) Public Opinion. Under the expanded partnership, MediaNews became managing partner.

The Texas-New Mexico partnership was formed in 2003 with Gannett’s El Paso (TX) Times and MediaNews Group’s six newspapers in New Mexico. Gannett and Singleton also are partners in the Detroit joint operating agreement and in a separate California partnership that includes Stephens Media.

Families Build Clusters

Two family-owned newspaper companies made strategic acquisitions that augmented growing suburban groups.

News-Press and Gazette Co., owned by the Bradley family in St. Joseph, Missouri, bought Sun Publications in suburban Kansas City from American Community Newspapers LLC. The Bradleys have acquired more than 250,000 in non-daily distribution in the greater Kansas City area over the past 18 months.

American Community Newspapers bought newspapers in suburban Washington, D.C. earlier in 2005 as a new growth platform. The company also publishes suburban newspapers around Minneapolis-St. Paul and Dallas.

Meanwhile, Shaw Newspapers purchased Lakeland Media, publisher of 12 weekly newspapers in Lake County, Illinois. The newspapers will be part of Shaw’s NorthWest News Group in the greater Chicago area.

Shaw Newspapers publishes more than 25 daily and weekly newspapers in northern Illinois and central Iowa. Shaw is the third oldest continuously owned and managed newspaper company in the U.S.

New Company Formed

Dan Hammond, one of the founders of American Profile magazine, launched the new American Hometown Publishing with separate acquisitions in Virginia and Oklahoma.

The company bought three non-daily newspapers in southwest Virginia from local owners. The operation includes publications in Norton, Big Stone Gap and Clintwood, as well as a commercial printing operation.

In Oklahoma, American Hometown bought daily newspapers in Blackwell and Guthrie from Jerry Turner.

Alternative Giants Merge

The two largest publishers of alternative newspapers in major markets announced plans to merge. New Times Media and Village Voice Media will publish free weekly newspapers in 17 cities under the banner of the Village Voice.

The combined company will have weekly circulation of 1.8 million. Management believes that will be enough heft to win additional national ad dollars.

Notable

Two other daily newspapers changed hands in the fourth quarter of the year. CNHI sold the Titusville (PA) Herald to its former publisher, Michael Sample. The Sample family owns a number of newspapers in western Pennsylvania.

Pioneer Newspapers agreed to sell the Havre (MT) Daily News to a partnership of three individuals.

Longtime newspaper owner Gary Gerlach formed a new company with publisher Dick Plum to buy a group of four non-daily newspapers in the Highland Lakes area west of Austin, Texas. Gerlach is one of the owners of a separate company that publishes newspapers in Nebraska, West Virginia and Colorado.

Community Publishers Inc. of Bentonville, Arkansas bought a group of 15 non-daily newspapers around Tulsa, Oklahoma from local owners. CPI is owned by Wal-Mart heir Jim Walton.

Earlier in 2005, WEHCO Media acquired CPI’s publishing operations in Bentonville and Fayetteville, Arkansas under the terms of their previous partnership arrangement.