Just after the market closed Wednesday, Media General announced it is “exploring the potential sale of newspaper operations.” The company, which owns 21 newspapers in five states, just two weeks ago got more time to ease a debt crunch it’s been facing. It has also been reducing staff at The Tampa Tribune, where 165 positions were eliminated in December. Florida has been a particularly hard-hit market for the company, and the only one that did not report a profit in the third quarter of 2011. The Tampa Tribune, which some speculate will be one of the papers to be sold, competes with the Poynter-owned, recently-renamed Tampa Bay Times in the St. Petersburg-Tampa market.
“Media General said it has received inquiries from several third parties regarding the potential purchase of certain of its print assets,” reports the company. Who might those companies be? “We’ve seen small chains buy small papers, especially nearby; we’ve seen some private equity buyers; we’ve seen some well-off individuals,” says Poynter media business analyst Rick Edmonds. “And I wouldn’t rule out Halifax Media,” which just bought 16 papers that were part of The New York Times Regional Media Group. “They may want a bigger group of papers concentrated in the South.”
Media General, which also owns 18 TV stations, expects its broadcast business to perform well this year due to the Olympics (for NBC affiliates) and political advertising in an election year. || Related: Ex-marketing director Brad Moses named GM at Media General’s NBC affiliate