Archive for June, 2015

Goodbye, Columbus

Dispatch FB portraitOhio journalists spent much of today trying to wrap their brains around the latest family-owned media group to throw in the towel. The Dispatch Printing Co., owned by the Wolfe family, rocked the Buckeye media world Wednesday morning with news that it was selling its print operations to New Media Investment Group Inc. of New York.
New Media will get the Columbus Dispatch, 24 suburban papers, seven magazines — plus real estate, including the coveted Dispatch printing plant.
The Wolfe family will keep its TV and radio properties, along with Ohio News Network.
The seller and buyer said all the expected things: the Wolfes said they remain committed to Columbus; New Media CEO Michael Reed said it is committed to quality local content.
Staff members and readers, on Day One, are less convinced. There were tears in the newsroom, according to one reporter, and the mood was somber. On Facebook, where the Dispatch profile photo includes the slogan “Ohio’s Greatest Home Newspaper,” readers expressed sadness and shame, and predicted staff cuts. New Media told employees it would not make any changes for 90 days.
Changes are inevitable, however, as the deeply staffed, family-run Dispatch is taken over by a Manhattan-based media investment firm.
New Media Investments (NYSE as NEWM) was created in February 2014, as the successor to GateHouse Media Inc., which had filed for Chapter 11 bankrupcty reorganization the prior fall. It is backed by a group called Fortress Investor Group and maintains offices a block north of the midtown offices of CNN, Fox and WSJ.
While the top execs all have deep roots in the media business (not always the case with the investment-driven owners), they have shareholders to worry about in addition to journalists. Revenue was up last year, thanks to eight acquisitions, but the bottom line was negative, with a $3.2 million loss for the year.
And the company is still on a spending spree that could depress short-term profits, having put out $540 million of a $1 billion war chest to grow since its inception.
New Media owns six Ohio properties, with three in the Canton area. It also prints the Akron paper. The majority of its assets are newspapers in small to medium markets, often very long established and the only game in town. At the end of the first quarter of 2015, New Media owned more than  560 community publications in about 475 markets in 32 states. It had 125 daily papers, more than Gannett Corp. with about 90.
In southern Ohio, the faculty of Miami University’s journalism program, my work home, are hoping assistant city editor Ruth Hanley will continue to make her annual visit to interview intern candidates. Hard to know at this juncture whether the well-supported internship program — with more than a dozen paid students from across the Midwest — will continue.


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