Two groups sold in two hours as owners continue to regroup

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Daily newspapers continue to change hands apace in the US, with two more transactions announced within two hours yesterday.

Dirks, Van Essen, Murray & April announced that GateHouse Media was to acquire the daily Newton New Jersey Herald, and that Forum Communications would buy Small Newspaper Group's Rochester (Minnesota) Post Bulletin.

The sales follow the trend of last year, in which 45 daily newspers changed hands for a total of $857.42 million in 36 deals, the largest number since 2000, with expectations the four-year rising trend will continue in 2019.

GateHouse is buying the New Jersey Herald from family-owned Quincy Media, ending an association chief executive Ralph Oakley says goes back for more than 50 years. "This change in ownership will allow the newspaper to continue as a very important institution in this region," he says.

Headquartered in Pittsford, New York, GateHouse Media publishes hundreds of weekly newspapers and more than 150 dailies, and is a is a wholly-owned subsidiary of New Media Investment Group.

The Rochester Post Bulletin deal - expected to close in the second quarter of this year - does not include its downtown office and plant facility. The paper has been owned by the Small family since 1977. Family-owned Forum Communications, based in Fargo, North Dakota, owns 36 newspapers in North Dakota, South Dakota, Minnesota and Wisconsin, including the Forum of Fargo-Moorhead.

Dirks, Van Essen, Murray & April - which was involved in 24 of the transactions - says the continuing higher transaction volumes are driven primarily by owners of clusters of publications seeking to build larger regional footprints, and the difficulties faced by small operators lacking the scale needed to manage expenses. "The vast majority of the 2018 deals were the sales of individual daily newspapers."

While the dollar volume was the highest since 2008 - thanks to health care magnate Patrick Soon-Shiong's purchase of the Los Angeles Times and San Diego Union-Tribune from Tribune Publishing - some transactions were smaller, the Trinidad (Colorado) Chronicle-News being acquired by four local readers.

Pictured: The New Jersey Herald and (background) downtown Rochester (picture Michael Ormand)

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