Halifax Media in talks to buy Freedom papers
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John Cribb thinks he knows why small- to mid-size newspapers remain attractive to investors. While many bigger papers have been flummoxed by the erosion of their missions and business models, their less hulking cousins still dominate newsgathering in their markets. "[T]here is franchise value there and it’s protected value,” says Cribb, whose company Cribb, Greene & Associates brokers newspaper sales.
Russell Adams reports that Freedom’s daily newspapers are wending their way toward new owners. Halifax Media, he says, is negotiating for Freedom’s Florida and California papers. Halifax bought the 16 New York Times Regional Group papers for $143 million in a sale that closed earlier this year. Those papers include Florida's Sarasota Herald-Tribune, the Gainesville Sun and the Lakeland Ledger. The company also owns the Daytona Beach News-Journal. In California, Halifax now owns The Press Democrat and the Petaluma Argus-Courier.
Versa Capital Management is looking at some of Freedom's Midwestern properties, and there are people looking at its Texas papers as well. (Here’s a list of Freedom newspapers.)
Media General, which acknowledged it was facing a debt crunch in its fourth-quarter report, announced it was "exploring" the sale of its newspapers on Feb. 22. It owns several dozen community papers as well as the Richmond Times-Dispatch, the Winston-Salem Journal and the Tampa Tribune, which competes with the Poynter-owned Tampa Bay Times. Those papers could be valued at $70-150 million, based on the NYTRG papers sale, wrote analyst Amit Chokshi.
Potential buyers of the Times-Dispatch include “Halifax, conservative Colorado billionaire [Philip] Anschutz, the Daily Journal Corp. of Los Angeles and A.H. Belo Corp. of Dallas," reports Peter Galuszka, based on information from Chokshi.
Cribb, who’s not involved in the sale of the Media General properties, says it’s important to remember that the newspaper business is basically two businesses -- newspapers of all sizes have been manhandled by the recession and the Internet, but some worse than others.
"I think the consensus is that the problems the mid- and small-newspaper industry has right now is 80 percent bad economy and 20 percent digital information issues," Cribb says. Hyperlocals like AOL's Patch sites haven't impacted his clients: "We haven’t heard anybody being really concerned about it."