COLUMBUS, Ohio (AP) — The family-held company that has owned The Columbus Dispatch for more than a century is selling its publishing operations to the New York-based New Media Investment Group, the companies announced Wednesday.
The newspaper's publisher, John F. Wolfe, described the decision to sell as "extraordinarily difficult," but he said it offers the best chance for the publication's future.
Wolfe described the decision — which came as a surprise to about 1,100 affected employees, including the editor — as coming after carefully assessing the changing media landscape over several years.
"We are proud of our 110-year legacy of family ownership of The Dispatch, and the newspaper's heritage of quality journalism and community involvement," he said. "However, the past two decades of accelerating and challenging change in the newspaper industry made it clear to us that maintaining a single-city, family-owned paper in this environment was untenable long-term."
Wolfe said his family "will continue to be fully involved in the civic, community and philanthropic endeavors that promote the high quality of life that exists in central Ohio."
The deal between Dispatch Printing Co. and the New Media Investment Group includes the Dispatch, which has a circulation of more than 130,000 daily and 235,000 on Sundays; ThisWeek Newspapers, a group of 24 suburban weeklies; and seven magazines, including Columbus Monthly. Three commercial properties are also being sold, including the Dispatch printing plant.
Dispatch Printing President Michael Fiorile said the company will retain non-print assets, including broadcast operations and its commercial and agricultural real-estate enterprises. The broadcasters include WBNS-TV in Columbus, WTHR-TV in Indianapolis and the sports talk radio station WBNS. He said the deal was in the works for about six months, but had to be secret from the staff because it involved a publicly traded company.
The Dispatch was one of the only family-owned major metro newspapers left in the United States as the financial model became increasingly unsustainable, Fiorile said. A recent deal to print The Cincinnati Enquirer had helped temporarily put off a deal that Dispatch owners began to see "was a matter of when, not if," he said.
Fiorile said it's New Media's intention to make no layoffs for 90 days, but staffing decisions — including the choice of a new publisher — will be up to them. New Media CEO and President Michael E. Reed is set to address the Dispatch staff Thursday.
New Media is a holding company that emerged from the bankruptcy of GateHouse Media Inc. in 2013. It is among the largest publishers of local print and online media in the U.S., including 126 daily publications.
Reed said the company deeply admires the Wolfe family's stewardship and commitment to the community and plans to continue that tradition.
"The paper is committed to providing proprietary, local content and unparalleled access to its markets for readers and advertisers," he said in a statement.
New Media plans to fund the acquisition with a combination of cash and a $25 million loan. It expects the deal to close in the second quarter of 2015, but cautioned the timing is uncertain. Terms were not disclosed.
The Dispatch was first published in 1871, and purchased by the Wolfes in 1905. It has won awards in breaking news, features, photography, layout, investigative reporting and defense of the First Amendment. Just last month, the paper and its website were judged the best in the state in the Ohio Associated Press Media Editors' annual contest.