12-31-07 | Printable Version

A Look Back

25 Years Ago

In 1982, 32 daily newspapers were sold -- about half the number sold in each year of the prior decade. Morris Communications surprised the industry with its $200  million purchase of the Jacksonville (FL) Times Union and St. Augustine (FL) Record, the largest deal of the year. The next largest transaction that year was Gannett’s purchase of the Jackson (MS) Clarion-Ledger and Hattiesburg (MS) American for $110 million.

The New York Times Company was also busy in 1982 first acquiring the Sarasota Herald Tribune for $85 million, and then jumping deeper into the community newspaper business with the acquisition of eight small dailies in the Southeast from Worrell Newspapers for $45 million.

1982 could also be called the Year of the Merger, as 15 companies that published both an afternoon and evening daily in the same city merged their two papers into a single newspaper published on the a.m. cycle.

But it was the 1982 launch of USAâ��Today that would have the greatest impact on the industry. Gannett’s long awaited debut of the paper came in September in the Washington D.C and Baltimore markets; several other markets were added later that year. It has continued to grow to its current circulation of 2,278,000.

20 Years Ago

The lull in newspaper deals in the early 80s had changed by 1987, as newspapers began trading hands at a near record pace. Twenty years ago, a lot of the deals were taking place in Texas. Hearst bought the Houston Chronicle for $415 million in the largest deal of the year.

Dean Singleton, who was relatively unknown in the industry at the time, burst on the scene by first buying the Dallas Times Herald for $110 million, then the Houston Post for $150 million. He followed those two transactions with the purchase of the Denver Post for $95 million, and Johnstown (PA) Tribune-Democrat for $57 million.

Ralph Ingersoll was also a relative newcomer making a name for himself by winning the auction for Horvitz Newspapers at $402 million. Ingersoll also acquired the Morristown (NJ) Record, using game show producer Mark Goodson’s money.

Thomson Newspapers acquired the Clay Communications group for $135 million including the flagship Charleston (WV) Mail. The New York Times Co. bought another daily in the Southeast, the Lawrenceville (GA) Gwinnett News, for $88 million. This was the beginning of an intense newspaper battle in rapidly growing Gwinnett County, just outside of Atlanta, the hometown of Cox Enterprises. Cox ultimately won the battle as it acquired the assets of the Gwinnett News from the New York Times Company in 1992.

1987 also marked the entry into the U.S. of Hollinger, Inc. and its subsidiary American Publishing Company, owned by Conrad Black and David Radler. The company completed 11 separate U.S. transactions that year and would go on to acquire more than 100 small community dailies in addition to the Chicago Sun Times in the next decade.

15 Years Ago

The nation was just coming out of the early 1990s recession and a number of newspaper companies were licking their wounds after experiencing their first down revenue year since the end of World War II. Only 21 daily newspapers changed hands in 1992.

The largest transactions of the year were two rather unusual deals. In the first, Hearst, which owned the San Antonio (TX) Express-News, acquired the San Antonio (TX) Light from Rupert Murdoch for $185 million and then offered the Express-News for sale. After no serious takers came forward, Hearst ceased publishing the Express-News.

In the other unconventional transaction, Gannett acquired the Honolulu (HI) Advertiser from its JOA partner, Persis, for $250 million. Gannett was required to sell its Honolulu (HI) Star Bulletin and found a buyer in Rupert Philips.

Dean Singleton’s MediaNews Group started added to its Bay Area cluster with the purchase of the Oakland (CA) Tribune from the Maynard family. Today, after more acquisitions, the group represents the largest cluster of newspaper properties under common ownership in the country.

E.W. Scripps Co. and Blade Communications got together in Pittsburgh and announced the formation of a Joint Operating Agreement after a lengthy competitive battle.

10 Years Ago

Annual daily newspaper sales records were shattered in 1997, as confidence in newspapers and strengthening values pushed acquisition activity to unprecedented heights. In total, 162 daily newspapers changed hands with aggregate transactional value of $6.2 billion, nearly double the previous record set two years earlier.

Two of those transactions were billion dollar deals. Knight Ridder paid $1.65 billion for four dailies, including Kansas City and Fort Worth, purchased from Disney after Disney decided to spin off all the newspapers it acquired from Capital Cities/ABC earlier in the year.

In the other billion dollar deal, McClatchy bought Cowles Media’s Minneapolis (MN) Tribune for $1.1 billion.

Other notable transactions include Gannett’s acquisition of the Asbury Park (NJ) Press for $340 million and Belo’s acquisition of 62% of the Riverside (CA) Press Enterprise for $160 million. Private equity firm Leonard Green and Associates acquired 55 community dailies for $310 from Hollinger’s American Publishing. This group would become the core of GateHouse Media in a 2005 transaction for $530 million.

1997 was also the year that Frank Shepherd made the first acquisition for his Michigan-based 21st Century group with the purchase of the Oakland Press from Disney for $155 million. At the same time, he acquired the Mount Clemens (MI) Macomb Daily for $61 million.

Dean Singleton’s MediaNews Group also took a big step in building out their Los Angeles cluster with the acquisition of the Los Angeles Daily News from the estate of Jack Kent Cooke.

This year also marked the launch of Community Newspaper Holdings, Inc., when it acquired 14 community dailies from Media General. Today CNHI owns more dailies than any other company.

5 Years Ago

Daily newspaper transaction volume rose significantly in 2002, even as the industry struggled through a lingering advertising recession. For the year, 32 newspapers changed hands in 16 separate transactions totaling $1.2 billion in value. The vast majority of newspapers that were sold were acquired by owners of newspapers in adjacent markets, as part of the clustering strategy of acquisition-minded newspaper companies.

This was the year that marked the beginning of an aggressive acquisition strategy by Lee Enterprises as it bought Howard Publications for $694 million, as well as completing two other daily newspaper transactions.

Also in 2002 Ottaway Newspapers began to shrink in size when it sold four of its dailies to CNHI for $180 million and three others to the Rogers family for $70 million. CNHI would also end up buying the three dailies sold to the Rogers family two years later when it acquired the Rogers family’s Lawrence (MA) Eagle Tribune and three more Ottaway dailies.

Although Ottaway sold seven of its dailies early in the year, it had added Stockton, California by the end of the year when the Omaha World Herald Company sold it after 10 years of ownership. MCG Capital acquired Minnesota -based Murphy McGinnis Media which it owned until it sold the company to American Consolidated Media earlier this year.