Tips on Buying A Publication From a New Owner
July 22, 2021
Hello everyone and welcome back to another edition of The NewStart Alliance. Apologies for the radio silence the last couple of weeks, but, well, it’s all your fault. Judging by the low open rate and the amount of out-of-office replies I received when I sent out our last newsletter, I decided to slow down production during the summer.
But just because our output tapered off doesn’t mean we were’t putting in hard work. We’ve got a ton to cover this week, so let’s get to it.
We’re going to start with great news, as we’ve got two big items of note from first-year NewStart fellows.
Crystal Good, publisher of Black By God The West Virginian, was selected to be part of Tiny News Collective’s initial cohort!
What is Tiny News, you might ask? Well, let’s get one thing straight: it has nothing to do with NPR’s Tiny Desk Series (although it would be pretty cool to collaborate with Thundercat). Here’s a bit of an explainer from Tiny News Collective’s press release:
As part of the cohort, Crystal will receive a $15,000 stipend, a year of membership dues to both the Collective and to LION Publishers, and access to a promising new CMS, based on Google Docs, that eventually will power her blackbygod.org website. I’ve seen a demo and it was fascinating.
So congratulations to Crystal on earning this next important step in her career.
If you want to hear more from Crystal, she will be a panelist at this year’s Radically Rural conference, which is being held Sept. 22-23 in person and online. Crystal is part of a session called “Building Trust: Measures to secure faith in local journalism,” which also features Joy Mayer and Lynn Walsh of Trusting News.
For more details and to register, visit radicallyrural.org.
But Wait, There’s More!
Congrats also are in order for NewStart fellow Miles Layton, who recently accepted a job as News Editor of the Commercial Dispatch in Columbus, Mississippi.
Miles had been the editor of the Perquimans Weekly in North Carolina, but is now moving to a six-day-a-week, family-owned paper where he will plan newsroom budgets, manage the staff, edit copy and even cover a few things here and there. Miles’s knowledge gained in the NewStart program will help the Commercial Dispatch, which has been owned by the same family for more than 100 years, rise to a new level in the community.
Miles will be joined in the newsroom by his wife, Nicole, who was hired to be the paper’s Lifestyles Editor and sports page designer.
Miles still has a long-term goal of owning his own publication, and the experience he’ll obtain in Columbus will help him prepare for that next step in his journalism career. So congrats to Miles, Nicole and the entire Layton family on the big move!
An Unlikely Newspaper Owner Succeeds
According to the latest report by Dirks, Van Essen & April, more than 100 newspapers have changed hands during the first six months of 2021. Forty-four of those papers were part of the acquisition by Paxton Media Group of Landmark Community Newspapers.
Head over here to read the full report, which includes mention of NewStart’s own Maggie McGuire, who purchased the Moab Sun News in Utah.
Continuing with the newspaper acquisition theme, in our last newsletter we talked with Jamey and D’Anna Honeycutt, who recently had purchased their first weekly paper in Clinton County, Missouri.
Today I want to introduce you to another first-time weekly newspaper owner in Missouri. Ron Schott purchased the Wright County Journal in April, but if you told him when he started his journalism career 20 years ago that he would eventually own his own paper, he probably wouldn’t have believed you.
“In 20 years I went from freelance journalist to being the owner of a newspaper,” Schott told me. “I didn’t have the desire to run my own paper until about three years ago.”
Ron Schott, right, shakes hands with former Wright County Journal owner Dalton Wright. (Photo courtesy Ron Schott)
“This was not my end game,” Schott said of ownership. “I was just trying to make extra money (as a freelancer when he started his career). But as years went on of working for other people, I used to kill myself for others, now I do it for myself.”
Schott was kind enough to share some advice for those who are contemplating the ownership route.
First of all, he encourages any young journalist to start off working at a weekly paper in order to get experience in all areas of the business. He remembered at one point when he was a sports editor of a weekly, he took on the task of increasing circulation in a neighboring community because he was covering their teams and knew that area would benefit from seeing all of the coverage. That experience led him to the business side of the newspaper industry.
Later, when he became a newspaper general manager, he knew that he could always fill a variety of roles because of his experience at weekly papers earlier in his career. That included delivering papers, creating ads and more.
“It’s like a restaurant owner with no experience,” Schott said. “You just can’t buy it and let others run it for you.”
As for a newspaper acquisition itself, Schott offered the following tips:
- If you like a particular town where a newspaper is located, talk to the owners or the people who know the owners to see if they’re close to retirement age or if they just want to sell. (In his case, the owner of the paper was indeed interested.)
- When you look for a bank to deal with, try to find one that has experience with newspaper transactions. “When I went to them and had the numbers — this is what I think it will take to do it, here’s what we’re making right now, projections for the future — almost instantly they made their decision. … They’ve done it before. They’re not worried.”
- Think hard about why you want to purchase a newspaper. “Why do I want to buy it?” Schott said. “It can’t be strictly financial. You have to think about community value. Right behind it, of course, is ‘Can my family make a living with this.”
Schott has been pleased with ownership so far. His projections have be on target and he’s comfortable with what the future holds for the publication.
“I love this business,” he said, “and I love documenting what’s happening in our county.”