Year-End 2021Back to News

Deal Activity Year in Review
Small deals abound as numerous local owners buy; CherryRoad makes a splash

In 2021, 42 daily or thrice-weekly newspapers changed hands in 21 transactions. Deal volume totaled $678 million. This compares to 81 daily or thrice-weekly newspapers changing hands in 19 transactions in 2020. Deal volume totaled $460 million.

We consider a newspaper to be a daily if it publishes at least four days a week in print or as a digital replica.

These are the standard statistics we have included in our year-end issue for 25 years. However, while we prepared this issue and studied the 2021 deal data, something stood out.

For those of us that track newspaper deal activity, the significance of the daily newspaper transaction is shifting. Print frequency and delivery methods are changing rapidly, and the strong differentiations between daily and nondaily newspapers are blurring. Whether they publish daily, weekly, or something in between, all newspapers are integral to their communities. And buyers of newspapers are viewing them through more similar valuation lenses than ever before.

While there were 21 transactions that involved 42 daily newspapers in 2021, dozens more deals were completed that involved hundreds of nondaily newspapers. The newspaper deal market is alive and well.

Who was buying and selling?
The sellers ranged from large companies such as Gannett Co., Inc., which worked to strategically rationalize its portfolio, to others such as Landmark Communications, Quincy Media, and Swift Communications, which all exited the newspaper business.

Families and independents sold operations as well, including Randy Miller’s Thirteenth Street Media in Tucson, Arizona and the Hunter family in Madison, South Dakota.

As was also the case in both 2019 and 2020, the buyer pool was extremely diverse in 2021. There were 16 different buyers in the 21 daily newspaper transactions, and the buyers of the nondailies were even more varied.

Larger newspaper groups, such as Paxton Media Group and Phillips Media Group, continued to buy, driven primarily by strategic interests. But a new buyer group that gained strength in 2020 continued to grow – local independent/small group owners.

Publishers and editors in numerous markets became owners this year, including Neil Belcher in Falmouth, Kentucky; Jennifer Allen in Hot Springs, Arkansas; Jonathan Vickery in Barnwell, South Carolina; and Justin Smith in Columbus County, North Carolina.

Many local owners of small groups also acquired newspapers, such as Vernon Publishing in Lake of the Ozarks, Missouri; 209 Multimedia Corporation in California; Sexton Media Group in Neosho, Missouri; and Larry Hiatt in Pittsburg, Kansas.

We also saw newspapers acquired by civic-minded residents without newspaper backgrounds. Paul Belogour of Brattleboro, Vermont acquired the Brattleboro (VT) Reformer, the Bennington (VT) Banner, the weekly Manchester (VT) Journal, and UpCountry Magazine from New England Newspapers Inc., which acquired them from Digital First Media in 2016, along with the Berkshire Eagle in western Massachusetts.

And let’s not forget CherryRoad Media, which burst onto the acquisition scene in 2021, going from one title in Minnesota in January 2021 to 40 titles across seven states as of January 2022.

Largest deal of the year
The largest newspaper deal of 2021 was Alden Global Capital’s acquisition of Tribune Publishing, which accounted for $630 million in deal volume.

However, stepping away from just newspapers and looking at the broader media landscape, the Tribune deal was only the 15th largest media deal of the year, dwarfed by others such as Discovery and WarnerMedia’s $43 billion merger and Amazon’s $8.45 billion acquisition of MGM.