Aaron Kushner’s 2100 Trust investment group is selling The Colorado Springs Gazette just four months after buying the paper.
The company, led by former greeting-card entrepreneur Kushner, acquired the Gazette and six other papers when it bought Freedom Communications in July.
But the sale to billionaire Philip Anschutz’s Clarity Media Group isn’t a sign that Kushner is losing interest in newspapers.
He continues to ramp up his investment in the Orange County Register, hiring more than two dozen reporters in the past few weeks and placing the focus back on the print product.
The newspaper buying-and-selling market is busy these days for an industry many have written off as dead or dying.
As the American Journalism Review reported, deals announced since the fall of 2011 include Warren Buffett’s purchase of his hometown Omaha World-Herald, followed this year by the acquisition of 63 newspapers owned by Media General; Los Angeles-based Revolution Capital Group’s October purchase of the Tampa Tribune; and the trend of local, politically connected investor groups buying the Philadelphia Inquirer and Daily News, San Diego Union-Tribune and Chicago Sun-Times.
Kushner isn’t the only one trimming some of his recent purchases. Earlier this month, Buffett announced that the Manassas, Va., News & Messenger, which he picked up earlier this year in his big purchase of Meda General papers, will stop publishing Dec. 30.
But Buffett still plans on buying newspapers, and the sale of the News & Messenger is a result of one troubled paper and not his opinion of the future of print media.
Kushner seems to have the same attitude. The sale could be an exercise in trimming the fat in Freedom Communications and building up strongholds such as the Register. According to a Register story Friday announcing the sale, Kushner said selling the Gazette allows him to concentrate on the Register as well as potential future acquisitions.
Before buying [Gazette and Register parent company] Freedom [Communications], Kushner made a bid for The Boston Globe and, separately, a group of Maine papers. This summer he said he had his eye on 15 potential properties. Earlier this month, he said he was interested in buying the Los Angeles Times and Tribune Co.’s other newspapers if they go on the market after the company exits bankruptcy.
“We’re going to focus the business where we feel we can best grow,” Kushner said. “We are very focused on the Register and everything we can do to make it a great paper.”
In a Gazette article on July 27, Kushner made positive comments about the health and potential of The Gazette.
“Our plan with regards to The Gazette is relatively straight-forward. We love The Gazette and frankly we really value and appreciate all of the Pacific group papers as well. We wouldn’t have bought the papers if we didn’t think that they were important, valuable, healthy institutions, and they are. We are going to engage in a strategic and thoughtful process with respect to The Gazette and the Pacific group papers about how do we best serve those communities. If it is through our long-term ownership of them, that’s wonderful and obviously we wouldn’t have bought them if we didn’t think they were fabulous franchises. They are. It may also be that there is an owner for The Gazette who can do an even better job than we can…But we feel very strongly that The Gazette is a very important part of the Freedom newspaper group today, and we’ll do everything we can to strengthen it and see it continue to be successful.”