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Two newspaper companies to merge under Digital First Media

Published December 17, 2013 2:18 pm

Ownership • CEO John Paton says the move will further his goal of online news delivery.
This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2013, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.

In a further reshaping of its media empire, The Salt Lake Tribune's New York-based corporate parent Digital First Media announced Tuesday it was merging two massive newspaper companies under its management.

The merger of MediaNews Group, with more than 57 daily newspapers, including The Tribune, and a wide range of weekly publications in 11 states, and 21st Century Media, whose outlets reach residents in 992 communities across 10 states, will be finalized within 30 days, Digital First Media said in a media release.

"This transaction will allow us even more opportunities to accelerate our transformative digital strategy and accelerate growth," Digital First Media CEO John Paton said.

Though both were previously managed at the top by Digital First Media, the two companies had separate stakeholders, budgets and lower-level management structures. The merger creates a single, as-yet unnamed company with one budget, one payroll and a streamlined management, Digital First said.

The two companies take in combined revenues of $1.3 billion.

''This is the first step in the next part of the journey,'' Paton said in a release. ''We will continue doing what we have done — investing more in digital tools, capabilities in innovation and maximizing our print products.''

The boards of directors of MediaNews Group, whose flagship newspaper is the Denver Post, and 21st Century Media, whose lead paper is the New Haven Register, recently approved the merger after more than a year of negotiations.

As its name implies, Digital First expounds a chainwide strategy of moving legacy print-oriented publishing outlets toward a more digital and Web-focused delivery of content to readers.

MediaNews Group founder William Dean Singleton announced his retirement in November from an array of corporate duties, including as chairman of the board of The Tribune.

While the 62-year-old held on to a position as part-time, non-executive chairman of The Denver Post, he otherwise surrendered all posts related to MediaNews Group Inc., the nation's second largest newspaper company, which he helped found in 1984.

The deal announced Tuesday comes eight months after Digital First completed the bankruptcy-related sale of Journal Register Company to 21st Century Media, an acquisition company affiliated with the hedge fund Alden Global Capital. It also follows several high-profile sales of real estate and other assets held by newspapers under Digital First management, with the stated goal of paying down corporate debt and relinquishing legacy costs.

Those transactions included the sales, both in October, of the San Jose Mercury News' 35.7 acre campus and office building, and the Salt Lake Tribune's share of West Valley City printing facilities it previously held jointly with the Deseret News.

While the San Jose property sold for $30.5 million, the sales price for The Tribune's printing press and other assets was undisclosed.

This latest merger, Paton said, will make future acquisitions easier if the company decides it wants access to a certain market or audience.

''The intention of the merger is not to sell,'' he said. ''It's to create a large, local media company ... The intention is to build.''

tsemerad@sltrib.com

Twitter: @tsemerad