Local news outlets are being acquired from large chains as
investors seek to reverse a trend of hedge fund “disinvestment,” according to a report by Northwestern/Medill’s Local News Initiative.
For example, Gannett is spinning off some smaller news outlets in the wake of its merger with GateHouse in 2019. And observers wonder if the same thing will happen following Alden Global Capital’s takeover of Tribune Publishing, per Medill's report.
“After decades of consolidation in local news ownership, we could be on the cusp of a back-to-the-future moment with more local operators, especially in smaller communities,” states Tim Franklin, senior associate dean and John M. Mutz Chair in Local News at Medill.
“There are civic-minded investors who are concerned about lack of news in their communities after years of downsizings,” he said.
The big chains do not deny their willingness to unload titles to local publishers: They are not in the newspaper business for keeps.
“Having been approached by prospective buyers, we’ve carefully considered what was best for both our company and the community, and we’re pleased that in several situations, a local owner will continue to lead these brands into the future,” states Bernie Szachara, president of U.S. publishing operations at Gannett, according to the report.
Alden’s recent takeover of Tribune Publishing has driven many readers and newsrooms to hope for a similar outcome. Hotel magnate Stewart Bainum was in talks to acquire The Baltimore Sun from Alden prior to the Tribune takeover, but the talks fell apart. And community leaders in Hartford, Connecticut were equally restive about the future of The Hartford Courant.
This is not a new trend.
In 2016, a local group purchased New England Newspapers from Digital First Media from Alden, and that led to further divestiture.
“People can talk about ‘Newspapers don’t make money. Newspapers do not make money.’ Well, guess what: They do,” Paul Belogour, who bought three Vermont newspapers and a magazine from the new owners of Digital First Media, tells Medill. “You’ll have a solid income. I’m not talking about Google income, but for the local newspaper, it’s good money.”