For almost 80 years, Calkins Media has served local newspaper and television markets in Pennsylvania, New Jersey, Florida and Alabama. The small, family-owned company, which completed the sale of its TV assets in April, have agreements to sell its remaining newspaper assets, including the Bucks County Courier Times.
The Courier Times, The Intelligencer (Doylestown), the Burlington County (New Jersey) Times, the Beaver County Times and the Ellwood City Ledger and Calkins Digital will be purchased by GateHouse Media. The Uniontown Herald-Standard, weekly Greene County Messenger and SWC Properties will be purchased by Ogden Newspapers.
The deals are expected to close June 30. Terms were not immediately disclosed.
“This decision was made after extensive deliberation by the Calkins family and the knowledge that our businesses could best thrive in a company with broader resources and reach,” said Mark Contreras, Calkins Chief Executive Officer. “I am very grateful for the tremendous creativity, passion and dedication of every Calkins colleague and the support of the Calkins family. It has been a great honor to serve with all of them.”
GateHouse Media publishes 656 community and business publications, including 130 daily newspapers, along with more than 555 affiliated websites in 36 states. GateHouse is one of the largest media companies in the country. GateHouse Media is overseen by New Media Investment Group (NYSE: NEWM).
Ogden Newspapers has more than 40 daily newspapers, along with a number of weeklies and a magazine division, from New York to Hawaii. Pittsburgh Pirates and Seven Springs Resort owner Robert Nutting is the CEO for Ogden.
“The four Calkins newspapers we are acquiring are among the most attractive media properties in the country,” GateHouse CEO Kirk Davis said. “They have a rich tradition of top-flight, award-winning journalism and are located in ideally sized markets. Last week we announced our 2016 GateHouse journalism winners. It was a great week for our journalism, and now this. On Saturday, I was watching video of Pennsbury's state championship win on buckscountycouriertimes.com and thought, “I'm glad this team has this newspaper. #outstandinglocalcoverage.”
Davis added that the papers joining GateHouse fit with the company well.
"We serve both readers and advertisers,” Davis said. “The readers have our pledge to uphold the strong journalistic tradition the Calkins family has brought for 80 years. And the local business community has our pledge to bring innovative new products, particularly in the digital space, to complement the strong products already in place to reach their target audience as effectively as possible."
GateHouse Media has acquired several publications in the past two years, including the Erie Times-News, The Fayetteville (North Carolina) Observer and The Columbia (Missouri) Daily Tribune. It also owns Propel Business Services division, which provides marketing and digital business services to small and mid-sized businesses. Calkins was one of the first companies to use Propel.
GateHouse also runs the Center for News & Design, based in Austin, Texas, employs more than 230 individuals and now serves several newspaper partners, including GateHouse. In early 2017, GateHouse announced the Dallas Morning News was moving its design to the center.
Davis noted that the purchase of the Calkins properties fits what GateHouse has done in buying recently.
“There are many similarities, by design, as we really have an eye for well-run papers that make a difference in their communities,” Davis said. “On top of that, the Calkins Digital Group has undertaken many forward-leaning initiatives, which we will carefully assess how these efforts could bolster and accelerate our digital strategy. Many partners rely on Calkins Digital Group services, and we are eager to serve them as well,”
The decision to sell was a difficult one for the Calkins family.
“All of us grew up and many still live in these communities and have a sense of responsibility to serve them,” said Charles C. Smith, who serves on Calkins’ board of directors and is a third-generation family member. “To not have a role in that anymore is extremely difficult for us.”
Board member Stan Ellis added: “Our family always felt that we had the right vision and strategy for adjusting to the changing patterns of news consumers. Our concern for the past several years was whether we would have the resources to see that strategy through to its successful conclusion. When it became clear that would not be the case, we came to the painful decision that we would have to find media companies that shared our vision and had the resources to complete what we started.”
The sale continues a national consolidation trend of local media once owned by families.
“The sole driving factor was the economics in running a paper in today’s world,” Smith said.
Smith added it is difficult to walk away from a business that has been a part of the family fabric since 1937.
“Tremendous journalism came out of these properties for almost 80 years,” Smith said. “We fought well above our weight class in terms of reporting. The gerrymandering project (which published Sunday) is the type of journalism newspapers should be doing. … I’m amazed every day at the high level of journalism, regardless of size. I’m going to miss being able to point to the fact that my family owns the paper that produced that quality of work and the inherent pride that went with that,” he said.
Sandra Hardy, who also sits on the Calkins board of directors and is the daughter of founder S.W. Calkins, said the newspapers are in good hands.
“My mother always said, “Newspaper people are the best people in the world,” Hardy said. “I have found this is always true. The folks who work to provide journalism for our counties are dedicated, and they have consistently met the highest of standards. I'm confident, under GateHouse, they will continue to deliver products that make our communities better places to live.”
Ellis, who also was former publisher of the Burlington County Times, said he will miss the company.
"It was an incredibly difficult decision,” Ellis said. “Our family identity was wrapped around our commitment to the First Amendment and operating quality community newspapers that made a difference in the communities they served. We could not imagine a world without that. Our decision was delayed for a long time as we came to grips with the idea we would not be involved with our newspapers anymore. To deal with that, we committed ourselves to finding ways sometime in the future to support quality journalism.