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Newspapers change hands in 2013

Reflections of a Newsosaur’s Alan Mutter recently told Reuters that publishers seem to be getting out of the newspaper business while the getting is good. He may be right, as a number of papers have been put on the chopping block since the start of 2013, including big titles like the Boston Globe and Los Angeles Times. Here’s a quick glance at whose been sold or is selling, whose buying (or rumored to be buying) and other known details of the deals:

Manhattan Media: Isis Venture Partners, the private equity firm that owns Manhattan Media, put the newspaper group up for sale in September. In February, Manhattan Media announced they had finally been sold to Straus News, a company that already published one magazine and nine newspapers in New York, New Jersey and Pennsylvania. The papers that were sold were Our Town, City Hall, the West Side Spirit, The Capitol, Our Town Downtown, Chelsea Clinton News and The Westsider.

Manhattan Media continues to own New York Family, New York Baby Show, City & State and Avenue magazine. Isis Venture Partners also owns Dan’s Papers, which are based in the Hamptons.

News & Record: In January, Warren Buffett’s Berkshire Hathaway Media Group purchased News & Record, which is based in Greensboro, N.C. According to BizJournals.com, this means that BH Media Group owns the region’s two largest daily newspapers after purchasing the Winston-Salem Journal from Media General last year.

Boston Globe/Worcester Telegram & Gazette: After 20 years of owning the Boston Globe, the New York Times put it up for sale in February. As of Saturday, potential bidders include Herberden Ryan and Richard Daniels. According to BostonGlobe.com, they tried purchasing New England Media Group, which includes the Worcester Telegram & Gazette, in the past year. Ryan runs a private equity firm called Boston Post Partner and is also the former president of Gatehouse Media New England, while Daniels is a former Globe president.

Former Globe publisher Ben Taylor and former Globe executive vice president Steve Taylor are also rumored to be interested. Meanwhile, BostonGlobe.com reported that Jack Griffin, head of the advisory firm Empirical Media and a director of Newsweek and the Daily Beast, may be a contender. A handful of other people were named, but it remains to be seen who the main competitors will turn out to be for the prize of the storied Boston Globe.

Los Angeles Times/Chicago Tribune/ Baltimore Sun/Hartford Courant:  There are plenty of rumors circulating about who will buy the Tribune papers, or more particularly the coveted Los Angeles Times. Rupert Murdoch is reportedly trying to circumvent FCC cross-ownership regulations that would make it harder for him to buy the newspapers since he owns television stations in Chicago and Los Angeles. Meanwhile, LAWeekly.com reported that billionaire brothers Charles and David Koch, owners of Koch Industries, are looking to buy the Tribune Company’s newspaper holdings. According to Bloomberg.com, Freedom Communication owners Aaron Kushner and Eric Spitz are also interested in the chain. Various reports say that other potential contenders are narrowing in on specific papers, but the Tribune Company is apparently not interested in selling off the newspaper group piecemeal.

The Advocate: As of June 1, the Baton Rouge Advocate is slated for sale to John Georges of Georges Enterprises, a $1 billion business that owns a variety of Louisiana-based companies.  According to Advocate.com, he approached owner Capital City Press 20 months ago about purchasing the paper, but negotiations were held up with the launch of the New Orleans edition of the Advocate.

Press of Atlantic City: In January, the family-owned Press of Atlantic City announced the newspaper was up for sale. CEO John Bitzer noted that the Press Media Group would be better owned by a large newspaper group or a local ownership “that can leverage its ties to the community.” Other newspapers in the group include At The Shore, Hometown, SundaySaver, PressXtra and Real Estate Monthly.

SF Weekly: The San Francisco Newspaper Company purchased SF Weekly, an alternative newsweekly, in January. The company, which also owns the San Francisco Examiner and San Francisco Bay Guardian, is headed up by president and co-owner Todd Vogt. According to SFExaminer.com, the paper continues on as a standalone publication.

Conclusion: While newspaper sales appear to be on a roll in 2013, Editor & Publisher reported the number of daily newspapers sold and number of individual transactions in 2012 were at the highest since the recession began five years prior. According to E&P, 84 daily newspapers sold last year in 25 transactions.

Perhaps buyers seem so plentiful because the nature of the would-be owner has changed as wealthy businessmen and entrepreneurs eye newspapers with innovative ideas and a belief that media rooted in print can still prevail. Meanwhile, the asking price for newspapers is much lower than what it once was. In a recent article, Mutter noted that when the New York Times Company bought the Globe in 1993, it sold for $1.1 billion. Today, it is on track to be sold for a 10th of that, he wrote. Lower asking prices are true all around, making newspapers attractive to those who can afford them.

As newspapers change hands, it will be interesting to see who the majority of owners are 10 years from now. Is the traditional newspaper publishing company at risk? Maybe not yet, but it is becoming an increasingly endangered species in the media world.

 –Katrina M. Mendolera

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