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New York Times announces sale of Argus-Courier and 15 other papers and websites

Published: Tuesday, December 27, 2011 at 3:09 p.m.
Last Modified: Tuesday, December 27, 2011 at 3:09 p.m.

The New York Times Co. announced an agreement Tuesday to sell its Regional Media Group of 16 newspapers, including The Press Democrat, for $143 million in cash to Halifax Media Holdings LLC.

The transaction is expected to close within a few weeks and includes the North Bay Business Journal in Santa Rosa, Petaluma Argus-Courier and 13 newspapers and affiliated websites in the southeast.

Michael Redding, chief executive officer of Halifax Media, said in a statement that the purchase “reflects Halifax Media's belief that a good newspaper is an essential part of any vibrant community.”

“The strong local news coverage these papers provide represents not only an important community service, but, in our eyes, a good investment,” Redding said. He did not return a phone call Tuesday seeking comment.

Halifax Media currently owns one paper, the Daytona Beach (Florida) News-Journal, which it acquired in 2010 for $20million in a court-ordered sale related to a lawsuit judgment.

The company's investment group includes Stephens Capital Partners LLC, Jaarsss Media and Redding Investments.

Stephens Capital Partners, a Little Rock, Ark.-based private equity firm, owns Stephens Media Group, a Las Vegas-based company that owns 11 daily and 64 weekly newspapers in nine states, primarily in Nevada and Arkansas. Its flagship is the Las Vegas Review-Journal.

News of the impending sale leaked out last week, forcing the Times Co. to acknowledge it was in “advanced discussions” with Halifax.

Press Democrat Publisher Bruce Kyse last week sought to assure advertisers and employees that the new owners were experienced newspaper owners who value community journalism.

He had no additional comment Tuesday, calling the announcement “part of the separation process.” The three Sonoma County papers employ 330 people.

Times officials have said they expect the “vast majority” of employees will be offered jobs at comparable salary and benefits. In an email to employees Tuesday afternoon, New York Times officials said employees would be contacted within 48 hours to learn if they will be retained at a comparable position or given a severance package.

“We look forward to welcoming any new owner interested in serving this community the way the New York Times has done for the past 26 years,” said Derek Moore, chairman of the union representing most newsroom employees at The Press Democrat. The existing contract with Pacific Media Workers Guild, Local 39521 expires Saturday.

The New York Times purchased the paper from the Finley family of Santa Rosa in 1985.

Arthur Sulzberger Jr., chairman of the New York Times Co., said Tuesday in a statement that “decisions like this are never easy,” but that sale will allow the company to “continue our transformation to a digitally-focused, multiplatform media company.”

Halifax is such a new player in the Florida media market that it's hard to say what its intentions may be for the regional group, said Rick Edmonds, media business analyst for The Poynter Institute, a nonprofit school for journalism located in St. Petersburg, Fla.

Stephens Inc. is clearly the deep pockets behind the purchase, Edmonds said, describing the financial services firm as “mammoth.” Forbes Magazine lists the firm's owner, Warren Stephens, as being worth $2.8 billion in 2011.

Edmonds said he wouldn't be surprised to see new management from Stephens Media brought in help run Halifax as a stand-alone company or to merge it with Stephens Media.

You can reach Staff Writer Kevin McCallum at 521-5207 or kevin.mccallum@ pressdemocrat.com.

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