Gannett Sells Pubs, And People Take Notice

July 29, 2021

Greetings everyone, and welcome to another edition of The NewStart Alliance. I'm your host, Jim, and I'm glad you're here.

This week we're talking about a new report from Northwestern and Poynter stating that more newspapers are being transferred from corporate chains to local owners across the country.

"As chain consolidation brings new uncertainty to an already fluid news landscape, another trend is emerging in which local investors buy news outlets from large chains and seek to reverse what they see as decades of disinvestment," writes Mark Jacob in the piece.

Highlighted within the article is Gannett's role in all of this, as Poynter found that 24 of their newsrooms have now gone back to local ownership.

Those who read the NewStart Alliance should not be surprised. We brought this to your attention back in February and included information Sara April, who works for the media M&A firm Dirks, Van Essen & April (which represented Gannett on some of these deals), discussed with our NewStart class in October 2020.

“One thing we’re seeing is some of the larger companies, whether it is a Gannett or a mid-size group, they’re really working on refining their strategies around digital, around publishing cycles,” April told our students back in October. “And some of them are finding that strategy really lends itself better to certain circulation categories. So maybe they’re really focused on their larger papers. So they’re looking to sell their smaller papers where the digital strategy just doesn’t translate as well.”

April added that that certainly rang true for Gannett.

“That’s really a clear strategy change for them,” she said. “The smaller papers don’t fit in with the strategies they’re moving forward with.”

Here's video of that session with our students if you'd like to watch it:

Sara April talks with NewStart students about Gannett's future.

Just this week Sexton Media Group announced that it had agreed to acquire the Neosho (MO) Daily News and the Aurora Advertiser from Gannett with an expected close date of September 1. Look for even more Gannett deals to come. In fact, I've informed my NewStart students about several more Gannett papers in the Midwest that are now up for sale. There are a few more smaller newspaper groups that are expected to spin off some of their properties as well as they get a better handle on their business models and future plans.

What does this mean for the industry? Well, for smaller communities served by these papers, they're going to see a return of local owners and operators, and that generally is good for everyone.

Penny Abernathy agrees, as she mentioned in the Jacob piece.

“All things being equal,” Abernathy said, “local ownership is always best for the community where the newspaper is located. That’s because a local owner is going to know that market and know the residents.”

At the same time, this does not mean that larger Gannett properties are going to pop up on the market any time soon. So those communities will still have to find a way to get by without local owners invested in their affairs.