06-30-08 | Printable Version

Buy and Hold Mindset Still True

Trends in Length of Ownership Reflect Areas of Intense Deal Activity

By the standards of most industries, newspaper owners tend to have a lot of longevity.

Even after record-setting deal activity this decade, the average daily newspaper in the U.S. has been under the same ownership for 28 years, largely unchanged since the late 1990s.

Across all industries nationally, a business stays under continuous ownership for fewer than 10 years, according to one study.

Even so, an examination of newspaper sales from 2001 to 2007 shows some shifting geographic trends based on the intensity of deal activity. (See maps below.)

The length of ownership in Massachusetts, for example, fell in recent years as a number of dailies changed hands.

GateHouse Media rolled up a number of publications in southeastern Massachusetts into one of the nation’s largest suburban publishing operations.

In addition, longtime family owners of the Eagle-Tribune in Lawrence, which had owned the newspaper since 1893, sold their operations in 2005.

Pennsylvania was another hotbed of activity. Some 28 daily newspapers have changed hands since 2001, including Knight Ridder’s Philadelphia newspapers (sold twice in the period) and the Pottsville Republican, which had been under family ownership since 1884.

The largest decline in length of ownership occurred in South Dakota, where the sale of two family-owned dailies and a relatively small number of dailies in the state combined to drop it from an average of 42 years under continuous ownership to 19 years.

The Hipple family, which had owned the Pierre Capital Journal since 1881, sold the newspaper in 2005. The Lowrie family ended 93 years of ownership of the Watertown Public Opinion in 2002.

On the other side of ledger, Oklahoma saw its average length of ownership increase during this decade. The state had a flurry of sales during the 1990s, many going to the fast-growing Community Newspaper Holdings Inc. Far fewer transactions have occurred in recent years.

Some states, including Alabama and Alaska, have had no daily newspaper sales since 2001.