3rd Quarter 2009Back to News

Cox Concludes Newspaper Sales
Family publishers Cooke and Seaton among buyers in 3Q

Cox Enterprises moved toward completion of the sale of its community newspapers with the closing of two additional transactions in the third quarter and an announced deal for a third publishing group.

The latest deals involved the company’s cluster of daily and weekly newspapers in eastern North Carolina, its daily and shopper operation in Grand Junction, Colorado and two dailies in east Texas.

This brings the total number of daily newspapers sold by Cox in 2009 to nine, representing about 40% of all dailies sold this year.

When the final deal is closed, Cox will have completed the sale of its community newspaper assets that it placed on the market. Cox will continue to own larger newspapers and related operations in Atlanta, Georgia; Austin, Texas; Palm Beach, Florida; and Dayton, Ohio.

As in previous Cox transactions, two of the buyers in the third quarter were privately held, family newspaper companies with strong convictions about the future of newspapers serving local markets.

John Kent Cooke, whose family legacy in publishing extends for three generations, acquired the North Carolina operation and its flagship Greenville Daily Reflector. The Seaton family, longtime Midwest publishers, bought the Grand Junction (CO) Sentinel.

Previously Cox sold daily newspapers in Lufkin and Nacogdoches, Texas to family-owned Southern Newspapers, and the Waco Tribune-Herald to the Robinson family.

The third buyer in the latest quarter was private equity firm American Securities Capital Partners, which owns existing publishing operations nearby. That deal is slated to close soon.

In the Pirates Den

Cooke Communications added to its group of newspapers in the Florida Keys with the Cox group in Greenville, home of the East Carolina University Pirates.

The group includes the 21,000-circulation Daily Reflector, the 14,000-circulation Rocky Mount Telegram and the 10,400-circulation Elizabeth City Daily Advance. In addition, the group publishes 10 weekly newspapers clustered around the three dailies. All of the publications are printed at a central plant in Greenville.

Cox built the group through a series of transactions, beginning with the acquisition of the Daily Reflector from the Whichard family in 1995. Rocky Mount and Elizabeth City came a year later through a trade with Thomson Newspapers, in exchange for Cox’s operation in suburban Phoenix.

Cox constructed the central Greenville plant in 1999. It also handled printing for Cox’s North Carolina direct mail operation, Saving Source Direct, which was sold separately to shared-mailer MailSouth.

Cooke acquired the Key West Citizen and associated publications from Thomson in 2000. His son, John Kent Cooke, Jr., moved from Key West to Greenville to take over as publisher of the Daily Reflector.

Texas Tea

The owners of a large group of non-daily newspapers in East Texas expanded their footprint with the addition of Cox’s daily operations in Longview and Marshall.

At the end of September, Cox announced that it had reached a definitive agreement to sell the 27,000-circulation Longview News-Journal and 6,000-circulation Marshall News Messenger to ASP Westward, L.P., which is owned by American Securities.

ASP Westward owns daily and non-daily newspapers in east Texas, suburban Houston and suburban Denver. In total, ASP Westward owns 60 publications reaching about 800,000 households.

Its east Texas group encompasses rural communities that stretch from an area about 60 miles east of Dallas to the Arkansas and Louisiana borders, just to the north and south of Longview and Marshall.

Cox has owned the Longview daily since 1978. It added the Marshall newspaper in 1996 as part of the same transaction with Thomson that brought Rocky Mount and Elizabeth City, North Carolina to the company.

Looking Grand

The Seaton family returned to Colorado with the acquisition of the Grand Junction Sentinel and associated Nickel shopper.

The Kansas-based family has newspapers in its home state, Nebraska, South Dakota and Wyoming, but hasn’t owned a publishing operation in Colorado since it owned the Western Farm Life in Denver.

The 30,000-circulation Sentinel will be the largest daily newspaper in the Seaton’s portfolio. And like Cooke, family member Jay Seaton headed to Grand Junction to join the management team. Cox had owned the Colorado daily since 1979.

Grand Junction is the most populous city in western Colorado, which has been growing in popularity for retirees and outdoor enthusiasts. Colorado’s Piceance Creek oil basin also is a major economic driver of the area.

Seaton Publishing traces its roots to 1915, when Fay N. Seaton bought the Manhattan (KS) Mercury, still the company’s flagship and headquarters. Other Seaton ancestors were prominent in American journalism during the 1800s.

The Eagle Has Landed

George “Scoop” Sample added another daily title to his growing stable with the Claremont (NH) Eagle-Times.

The owner of the newspaper had closed it suddenly in July, then put his company into bankruptcy. Sample received court approval to buy the masthead, circulation list and receivables with plans to reopen the publication.

The Eagle-Times covers the city of Claremont and some neighboring communities in Vermont.

Sample owns newspapers principally in Pennsylvania, Maine and New York. In recent years he has acquired the Brunswick (ME) Times Record, Oswego (NY) Palladium-Times and Sayre (PA) Times.

Other News

A group headed by Chicago businessman James Tyree submitted a proposal to buy the Chicago Sun-Times and its suburban newspaper group in a deal worth about $25 million.

The transaction, which is being handled as part of Sun-Times Media Group’s bankruptcy filing, still needs court approval and union concessions. The proposal calls for Tyree’s group to pay $5 million and assume about $20 million in liabilities.

Media General sold Virginia Business Magazine to a group of local investors that includes the magazine’s president and publisher, Bernie Niemeier. The magazine is based in Richmond.

The owners of newspapers in northwest Arkansas have proposed a joint venture that would combine the operations of several newspapers in that region.

The new entity could combine the operations of newspapers owned by Walter Hussman’s WEHCO Media and those owned by Stephens Media. WEHCO will control the business functions of the combined operation, and Stephens will be in charge of editorial of the local newspapers.

Village Voice Media sold the alternative weekly Nashville Scene to a local company, SouthComm. SouthComm also owns alternative weekly in Louisville, Kentucky and The City Paper in Nashville.