News-Journal Owner Halifax Media Buying New York Times’s 16 Regional Papers
FlaglerLive | December 19, 2011
Last Updated: 5:11 p.m.
The New York Times confirmed today that Halifax Media Group, owner of the Daytona Beach News-Journal since 2010, is buying the 14 newspapers in The New York Times Regional Group. News of the sale was originally broken by Jim Romenesko, the long-time media blogger.
Five of the regional group’s newspapers are in Florida, including the Ledger in Lakeland, the Star-Banner in Ocala, the Gainesville Sun, the News-Chief in Winter Haven, and the Sarasota Herald Tribune. The 16 papers have a combined weekday circulation of 433,251 and 1,755 employees, according to the Times Company’s 2010 annual report. The regional group accounted for 11 percent of the company’s $2.4 billion revenue in 2010 (the New York Times itself generated 65 percent). But advertising revenue at the regional papers has been declining.
The acquisition would mean a significant change in journalistic and ideological culture for the Times group papers, most of which profess a centrist to liberal point of view. Halifax Media’s outlook, driven by Daytona Beach News-Journal Publisher Michael Redding, is staunchly conservative, with a heavy emphasis on business journalism friendliest to chamber of commerce interests.
“Goal No. 1,” Michael Redding, publisher of the News-Journal, wrote last spring in a recap of his first year at the helm of the paper, “was to regain the financial footing of the company. To be successful in that endeavor, it required we improve our products, including significantly increasing the amount of local news we consistently provide readers.” The paper, however, has generally kept to a visible newsprint diet since the economic collapse in Volusia and Flagler counties, where unemployment remains at 10 and 14 percent respectively and the real estate and construction industries, mainstays of the local economy until 2007, have not recovered.
“We also wanted to provide more profiles of local people and positive news,” Redding continued. That, the News-Journal has done, going as far as to mimic some of its local content in Flagler, and some of its visual designs, on those of the Palm Coast Observer, the community weekly distributed freely to thousands of driveways in Palm Coast. The paper’s circulation, meanwhile, has continued to fall (weekday circulation declined 4.5 percent year-over-year through September), as has that of all but a handful of papers in Florida and elsewhere.
The paper’s acquisition in the spring of 2010 was also preceded by 48 layoffs at the new ownership’s direction, capping three years of employee cuts that reduced the paper’s ranks by half, from about 800 in 2007.
Several New York Times Regional Group papers were reporting the sale on their website Monday, but not the News-Journal. Halifax Media itself had, apparently by mistake, not so much announced the sale on its website but presumed it when its About Us page listed its own properties as well as those of the regional group’s this morning. The page has since been taken down, and the site has been inaccessible most of the day.
The rumor at the News-Journal Friday had been that Redding was going to acquire a paper in South Florida. The rumor proved off target, but only geographically.
“They’re not telling us anything,” an employee at the News-Journal, who asked not to be identified for fear of reprisals, said. “It’s mind-boggling. They don’t have money for us but they go out and do this thing.”
Employees at the paper were nevertheless instructed to refer all calls to Pat Rice, the editor. Redding did not respond to a list of questions emailed earlier today.
A newsroom employee at the Sarasota Herald-Tribune, the largest of the papers in the New York Times Group, said the publisher there, Diane McFarlin, called a meeting of all employees today to make the announcement of the ongoing talks and likely acquisition, “and asked everybody to not pre-judge” the new ownership, though there was “an awful lot of tension” in the building. The Herald-Tribune staffer said there was “a fair amount of fear and worry about the future and a certain amount of irritation with The New York Times.”
McFarlin told the staff that Halifax Media had approached the Times about the acquisition earlier this year. “In a statement to Regional Media Group employees, president and COO Michael Golden said he expected the ‘vast majority’ of employees to be offered employment through the new owner,” the Herald-Tribune reported today. “McFarlin stressed that Halifax Media emphasizes local connections, and that local emphasis ‘is something that bodes well for us.'”
Memories are fresh in Times properties such as the Herald-Tribune of a visit by Arthur Sulzberger Jr., the publisher of the Times, during the paper’s better days, when he thanked the staff for the Herald-Tribune’s contributions to the company’s health.
The Regional Media Group comprises the following publications:
- Sarasota Herald-Tribune in Sarasota, Fla.
- The Press Democrat in Santa Rosa, Calif.
- The Ledger in Lakeland, Fla.
- Herald-Journal in Spartanburg, S.C.
- Star-Banner in Ocala, Fla.
- The Gainesville Sun in Gainesville, Fla.
- The Tuscaloosa News in Tuscaloosa, Ala.
- The Gadsden Times in Gadsden, Ala.
- The Courier in Houma, La.
- Times-News in Hendersonville, N.C.
- Daily Comet in Thibodaux, La.
- The Dispatch in Lexington, N.C.
- News Chief in Winter Haven, Fla.
- The Wilmington Star-News, N.C.
- Petaluma Argus-Courier, Calif.
- North Bay Business Journal, Calif.
[This is a developing story.]