Brown Publishing – A Look BackBack to News

Looking back at the Brown family’s history and prominence in Ohio politics and newspapers.

Newspapers and politics were long the lifeblood of the Brown family in Ohio. Clarence J. Brown bought his newspaper in 1920, a weekly in Clinton, Ohio outside Akron. But initially, newspapers had to take a back seat.

In 1918 Brown had been elected lieutenant governor of Ohio, the youngest man ever to hold that post, and later was elected secretary of state. He was unsuccessful in two bids for governor of Ohio, but then found a home in the U.S. House of Representatives, where he served from 1939 to his death in 1965.

A Republican, he generally opposed the social legislation of the Truman, Kennedy and Johnson administrations. However, shortly before his death, he checked himself out of the hospital and helped to win approval for the Voting Rights Act of 1965, one of the major legislative efforts of the Civil Rights movement.

His son, Clarence J. “Bud” Brown, won the special election for his father’s House seat and served for the next 17 years.  Bud Brown also ran unsuccessfully for governor of Ohio, but was tapped by Ronald Reagan to serve as deputy Commerce Secretary to Malcolm Baldridge. When Baldridge died, Brown became Acting Secretary of Commerce through the end of the Reagan administration.

During this period, Brown Publishing Co. remained a fairly small enterprise. The family’s  focus, however, was beginning to shift. In 1986, Brown Publishing made its first large acquisition – five Ohio daily newspapers and complementary publications from the Galvin family.

Bud Brown’s son Roy Brown joined the company in 1996 and the growth began in earnest.

In 1997 the company acquired the Athens Messenger, serving the hometown of Ohio University. In the following year, Brown swapped some weekly newspapers in the Cincinnati area for three dailies in western Ohio owned by Thomson Newspapers, a large group owner of U.S. newspapers.

Brown continued to pick up Ohio newspapers throughout the 2000s, forming publishing clusters and central production facilities. Roy Brown lost in the Republican primary for a U.S. House seat in 2002, but otherwise kept his attention on the newspapers.

The Ohio acquisitions largely ended in 2007 when Brown sold its newspapers in southeastern Ohio, including the Athens Messenger, to fast-growing American Consolidated Media.

Brown then looked outside Ohio, buying the leading publication serving the Hamptons in New York, Dan’s Papers, and a series of business journals in Iowa, South Carolina, Texas, Colorado and other states.

Like more than a dozen other newspaper companies, Brown Publishing was forced to file for bankruptcy protection in 2010 due to its debt load.

The publishing assets ultimately were taken over by Brown’s senior lenders, who created a company called Ohio Community Media. The business journals were sold in a series of separate transactions, beginning in late 2010. The Ohio newspaper group was sold to a new company formed by Versa Capital Management in May.