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NEW MEDIA INVEST. SELLS LAS VEGAS R-J; WHO BOUGHT IT? Company makes 36.6 pct. gain, keeps rest of Stephens' 6 dailies.

Well, we don't know who bought the Las Vegas Review-Journal, but we do know who didn't: representatives of Kansas City's Koch brothers -- billionaires who fund libertarian causes -- said this morning they weren't the buyer, while this evening Brian Greenspun, the longtime editor and publisher of The Review-Journal's rival Las Vegas Sun said he wasn't either.

"I already have a daily newspaper," Greenspun told one of his reporters.

On Friday, New Media Investment Group Inc. -- which had purchased The Review-Journal and six other dailies and a handful of weeklies in February for $102-1/2 million from Stephens Media Group Inc. -- said it had sold The Review-Journal for $140 million to a shell corporation the day before.

The chief executive of the shell, News + Media Capital Group LLC, is Michael Schroeder, a longtime newspaperman who has been the publisher and co-owner of two Connecticut dailies, the Bristol Press and The Herald of New Britain, since 2009.

New Media Investment and Schroeder said New Media had been retained "as the manager of the newspaper assets," though the terms of that deal weren't disclosed. New Media said it did not expect to make any management or editorial changes following the closure of the deal.

But the owners of the shell company aren't revealing themselves. Making matters more interesting, these people paid 36.6 percent more for the single daily over the seven dailies combined, indicating they are somewhat wealthy.

And adding to the turmoil, The Review-Journal's publisher, Jason Taylor, is alleged to have manipulated the article about the sale the paper posted on its web site Thursday night and in its first Friday printed edition.

According to HuffingtonPost.com, Taylor removed a quote from Schroeder asking reporters to not "worry about who" the owners may be, and a quote from the paper's editor, Michael Hengel, complaining about the lack of transparency in the sale and the what the expectations of the new owners might be.

HuffingtonPost said Taylor "took responsibility for pulling the quotes" in a Friday staff meeting.

In addition to selling The Review-Journal, New Media Investment said on Friday it had also consummated two deals it valued at $46-1/2 million. It its announcement, the company said it had an agreement "to purchase substantially all of the publishing operations of a dominant, local daily newspaper."

This morning, the Mead family, which publishes Pennsylvania's Erie Times-News, said that pending approval of its directors, the paper would be sold to New Media Investment. Neither New Media nor The Times-News revealed a specific price, but they said they expected the deal to close early next year.

"The industry, and this newspaper, have evolved to the point where family-owned, independent newspapers face too many hurdles to survive long-term without help," Ken Nelson, publisher of The Times-News, told a reporter for the paper. The Times-News has a daily average circulation of about 40,000.

New Media Investment also said it had acquired the "business information division" of The Dolan Co. of Minneapolis (there doesn't appear to be any other division at Dolan anymore); again, no specific terms were given.

Dolan entered a Chapter 11 "pre-packaged bankruptcy" in March 2014 and exited under the control of a private investment firm, Bayside Capital Inc.

Dolan publishes business dailies and legal weeklies or monthlies in 17 markets nationwide, ranging from Baltimore to Minneapolis to Phoenix, Ariz., with titles such as the Daily Reporter of Milwaukee, the Virginia Lawyers Weekly of Richmond and the Daily Journal of Commerce of Portland, Ore.

Following the acquisitions, New Media Investment will own or operate 125 dailies and more than 460 free and paid weeklies and shoppers.

In other newspaper mergers and acquisitions news, Dix Communications of Wooster, Ohio, said on Wednesday it had sold its The Crescent-News of Defiance, Ohio, to Adams Publishing Group LLC of suburban Minneapolis. Yet again, no terms were given.

The Crescent-News is a six-day paper with a daily circulation of 14,000 and a Sunday circulation of 15,300. The deal also includes a weekly shopper, two monthly magazines and related web sites.

Adams said it would retain Steve VanDemark, a 44-year employee of the company, as publisher.

Founded last year, Adams Publishing has since acquired newspapers in Idaho, Maryland, Michigan, Minnesota, Ohio, Wisconsin and Wyoming. When the deal closes, it will have 10 dailies and more than 60 non-dailies.

Lastly in newspaper M&A news, at a bankruptcy hearing in Santa Ana, Calif., today, the court approved "debtor-in-possession" financing for Freedom Communications Inc., publisher of that city's Orange County Register and The Press-Enterprise of Riverside. Freedom filed for bankruptcy on Nov. 1.

The company submitted a revised debtor-in-possession agreement on Thursday upping the offer for a loan from Silver Point Capital LP, from $3 million for $4-1/2 million. Silver Point is Freedom's main lender, to whom it owes $19 million.

Earlier, Tribune Publishing Co., publisher of the nearby Los Angeles Times, had told the court that Silver Point's $3 million loan was too complex -- and it had made its own $3 million loan offer -- but conceded in court today that the additional $1-1/2 million met its approval.

Further, Freedom told the court it had retained Mosier & Co. Inc. of Costa Mesa, Calif., as "an independent sales representative to objectively oversee the company sale and bidding process."

Moiser's appointment seemed to mollify not only Tribune, but also another potential bidder, Digital First Media of Denver, Colo. Digital First publishes the nearby Los Angeles Daily News and Long Beach Press-Telegram.

While Silver Point has not said whether it would bid for the firm, in its filings with the bankruptcy court it reserved the right to make a bid.

Freedom said it expects the bankruptcy auction to conclude by March.

The new owners of the Las Vegas paper have challenged the newsrooms of not only The Review-Journal, but also the Sun, to find out who the investors are. And that's assuming other reporters (like HuffingtonPost.com or the Los Angeles Times) don't get interested. With that much heat, the names will come out.
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Publication:NewsInc
Date:Dec 14, 2015
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