Statesman’s parent company puts newspaper up for sale


Highlights

Cox has owned the Austin American-Statesman for 41 years.

Cox also is selling the Palm Beach Post and Palm Beach Daily News in Florida.

Atlanta-based Cox Media Group said Tuesday it will sell the Austin American-Statesman after owning the city’s daily newspaper for 41 years.

The Statesman is being marketed with its seven community newspapers and multiple websites. Cox also is selling the Palm Beach Post and Palm Beach Daily News in Florida.

Cox executives did not publicly specify an asking price for the Statesman.

Cox Media Group President Kim Guthrie said the decision to put the newspapers up for sale is part of a pivot toward markets where Cox has multiple media assets, such as Atlanta and Dayton, Ohio, where James M. Cox, bought his first newspaper property, the Dayton Evening News, nearly 120 years ago and later went on to become a three-term governor of Ohio. Cox owns TV, radio and newspaper operations in both of those cities.

“After careful consideration, we have made the difficult but strategic decision to put our newspapers in Palm Beach and Austin up for sale,” Guthrie said in a written statement. “We have made the decision that we will be better equipped to operate our newspapers in Atlanta and Ohio, where we have the integrated opportunity with our TV and radio operations.”

Guthrie and other company executives made the announcement in West Palm Beach, Fla., on Tuesday morning. Tuesday afternoon, Guthrie came to Austin to address the roughly 200 employees who work at the Statesman.

“When Kim called last week to share this decision with me, she made it clear that this is not a reflection of the value the Statesman delivers to our readers, to our advertisers and to CMG,” Publisher Susie Gray Biehle told Statesman employees in a memo. “While I am sad to leave the Cox family, I am optimistic about the future for the Austin American-Statesman because of the strength of our brand, the quality of the journalism that we do and the talent of the people.”

The Statesman, founded in 1871 and published daily since 1873, has been named Texas Newspaper of the Year by the Texas Associated Press Managing Editors three of the past four years. In addition to its flagship daily newspaper and website, the Statesman also publishes Austin360.com, 512tech.com, Hookemplus.com, the Round Rock Leader, Pflugerville Pflag, Bastrop Advertiser, Westlake Picayune, Lake Travis View, Smithville Times and ¡Ahora Sí!

Statesman Editor Debbie Hiott stressed that the newsroom’s mission is not changing.

“Although it has been good to be owned by Cox all these years, the journalism we do comes from local journalists who are invested in this community,” she said. “So new ownership isn’t going to change what we do or our commitment to serving our Austin-area readers.”

The past two decades have seen ongoing waves of consolidation in the newspaper industry, as the digital era brought circulation and print advertising revenue declines, forcing many publications to fold or sell.

It’s not the first time Cox Enterprises, the privately held parent company of Cox Media Group, has put the Statesman on the sales block. The company also did so in August 2008 but then took the newspaper off the market in August 2009, saying it would remain part of the converged newspaper, TV, radio media company Cox was creating to stand along with its automotive and cable interests. Forbes magazine lists Cox Enterprises as America’s 14th largest private company, with annual revenue of $20.1 billion as of year-end 2016.

Cox said it anticipates the sales process could take six to 12 months.

Rick Edmonds, media business analyst at the Poynter Institute, a nonprofit journalism center in St. Petersburg, Fla., said the Statesman would be a desirable acquisition for a media company or a deep-pocketed investor.

“I can see a number of prospective buyers. Gannett and New Media Investment (GateHouse Media) are sure to take a look,” Edmonds said via email. “The American-Statesman would be a great fit for Hearst, which already owns the Houston Chronicle and San Antonio Express-News” — and which also currently prints the Statesman. “And there is always the chance that a wealthy local individual might find ownership attractive — as happened with the Boston Globe or Minneapolis Star Tribune.

“But even in an attractive market like Austin, going on the block introduces uncertainty at a difficult time of transition in the industry. There is the chance that a new owner would make substantial reductions in news staff and that the community will be less well-served,” Edmonds said.

Gannett owns USA Today and more than 100 other daily newspapers nationwide. In Texas, it operates daily newspapers in Abilene, Corpus Christi, San Angelo and Wichita Falls.

GateHouse Media owns hundreds of newspapers around the country. While GateHouse doesn’t own any media outlets in Austin, its Center for News & Design is in Austin and does some work, including graphics, for Cox newspapers.

In December 2015, Cox Enterprises sold the Statesman’s lakefront property just south of downtown to a Cox family entity. The family members have since hired Austin-based Endeavor Real Estate Group — developer of the Domain, Domain Northside and numerous other high-profile retail, office and mixed-use projects — to redevelop the 18.9-acre site.

City planners see the prime Statesman land as the biggest opportunity for providing enhanced open space along a large swath of land with multiple owners along Lady Bird Lake’s southern shores, where new development is destined in coming years.



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