Dozens Of Local Papers Changing Hands, Others Closing

As the dominant source of local news in many communities, small community daily and weekly newspapers have retained much of their value to advertisers and readers alike. That's afforded some protection against trends that have undermined their much larger metropolitan daily peers.

A spate of sales over the last few months demonstrates that, while  under pressure, local newspapers are still alive and kicking, as plenty of buyers still see their value.

Last week, Hearst Corp. announced the acquisition of Houston Community Newspapers & Media Group from its former owner 1013 Star Communications, in a transaction including The Courier, a daily newspaper serving Conroe and Montgomery County, as well as 23 weekly newspapers serving Houston’s northern metro area.

With a combined print circulation of 520,000, the newspapers reach an estimated print audience of 1.4 million and a digital audience of four million per month, concentrated on Houston’s north side, according to 1013 Star Communications.

Also last week, publisher Paddock Communications purchased five daily and seven weekly newspapers serving seven counties across southern Illinois from their previous owner, GateHouse Media. Paddock, based in Arlington Heights, already publishes a number of newspapers focused on the Chicago suburbs, including the Daily Herald, Spanish-language Reflejos, The Business Ledger, and many niche publications.

The acquisition marks its first major expansion in downstate Illinois.

For its part, GateHouse announced the acquisition of Fayetteville Publishing, the publisher of The Fayetteville Observer in North Carolina. Intil recently, it was one of the oldest independently operated newspapers in the country, with continuous publication dating back two centuries. It becomes the eleventh newspaper owned by GateHouse in North Carolina.

In Pennsylvania, New Jersey-based circular distributor Donnelly Distribution acquired Broad Street Media, which publishes community newspapers including The Philadelphia Weekly, Northeast Times and the South Philly Review. The new owner revealed plans to expand publication to new neighborhoods in the Philadelphia metro area.

Elsewhere, Schurz Communications of Mishawaka, Indiana, publisher of The American News and Farm Forum, acquired the Watertown Public Opinion of Watertown, South Dakota from its previous owner, United Communications Corp. of Kenosha, Wisconsin.

In Tennessee, the Memphis-based Daily News Publishing Co. acquired the Hamilton County Herald, a century-old paper based in Chattanooga, widening its coverage of Tennessee’s mid-sized metro areas. The new owner plans to begin publishing an email edition of the Herald and will share content with its other papers, among other new offerings.

In Nashville, Arkansas, the Nashville Leader and Nashville News are merging to form The Nashville News-Leader, as part of the sale of Graves Publishing Co., which also gives the Nashville Leader ownership of local papers including The Murfreesboro Diamond, Glenwood Herald and Montgomery County News.

A similar merger is underway in Barrow County, Georgia, where the Barrow County News has been acquired by Mainstreet Newspapers from Swartz-Morris Media, and will be merged with its counterpart, the Barrow Journal, to form a single newspaper. Mainstreet publishes a total of six weekly newspapers serving communities in northeast Georgia.

Not every small newspaper finds a new home, however.

This week also saw the closing of Community Papers of Western New York, which published 21 weekly newspapers serving a total of around 250,000 households across the mostly rural region. The closing followed a Chapter 11 bankruptcy filing last fall, and comes as one of the company’s main creditors, The Buffalo News, seeks to collect some $1.7 million in unpaid printing fees.

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