Cox Enterprises Inc. sells NC Newspapers to Cooke Communications

John Kent Cooke, son of the late Jack Kent Cooke, who had been involved in a number of joint newspaper ventures in Canada and once owned the Los Angeles Daily News, the Washington Redskings, as well as a group of community papers in Arizona, Colorado and New Mexico, has purchased thirteen North Carolina newspapers.

Previously owned by Cox Enterprises, of Cox Communications empire fame, daily newspapers the Daily Reflector in Greenville, Rocky Mount Telegram and the Daily Advance in Elizabeth City as well as weeklies in Snow Hill, Williamston, Windsor and elsewhere have been purchased by Mr. Cooke for an undisclosed amount of money.

From The Wall Street Journal:

http://online.wsj.com/article/BT-CO-20090720-710862.html

Cox Enterprises Inc. agreed to sell three of its North Carolina newspapers and 10 weekly newspapers in eastern North Carolina to Cooke Communications LLC, a privately held family company headed by John Kent Cooke.

Cooke expects to keep "virtually all" employees.

Cox, which also operates cable-television provider Cox Communications, TV stations and newspaper publisher Cox Media Group, has been seeking buyers for its smaller newspapers as the industry suffers declines in advertising and readers, who are turning to the Internet for news and entertainment.

The dailies Cox is selling to Cooke are the Daily Reflector in Greenville, Rocky Mount Telegram and the Daily Advance in Elizabeth City. The price was not disclosed.

"We're confident that the Cooke family will be excellent owners of these papers and continue to foster a strong commitment to the community and advertisers," said Doug Franklin, executive vice president, Cox Newspapers.

Cooke promised to continue the strong tradition of family-owned independent newspapers serving these communities. "We look forward to working with the talented staffs at these newspapers to continue to provide timely, accurate local news that matters to readers' lives."

His oldest son, John Kent Cooke Jr., will move to the Greenville area to become president of Cooke Communications North Carolina and publisher of the Daily Reflector.

Comments

Cooke comments

“Newspapers are not dead. They’re not even ill,” John Kent Cooke said during the announcement. “I’m not worried in the least about the future of this business, particularly here in North Carolina. It’s going to be difficult at times, but we will be successful because we have the same attitude that the Cox people have and that is we’re going to concentrate on our local news ...”

Cooke’s eldest son, John Kent Cooke Jr., will move to the Greenville area to become president of Cooke Communications North Carolina and publisher of The Daily Reflector. It is anticipated that virtually all employees will be retained under the new ownership, the press statement said.

I don't know about dead or ill, but I do know this, the basic business model of newspapers is badly broken, and unless Cox gave these papers to Cooke Communications for free, the new owner will soon find itself struggling to deliver the returns newspaper publishers have come to expect.

The story in the Elizabeth City paper says

Cooke’s eldest son, John Kent Cooke Jr., will move to the Greenville area to become president of Cooke Communications North Carolina and publisher of The Daily Reflector. It is anticipated that virtually all employees will be retained under the new ownership, the press statement said.

It's hard to miss the weasel framing with "anticipated" and "virtually" thrown into that last sentence.

What Mr. Cooke didn't say is this:

"We don't actually know how many people we'll lay off, and we're too busy celebrating the deal to worry about it right now. But did you notice that we bought a whole bunch of papers in one small region? That's known in the business as a driver of economies of scale."

We heard the same song and dance when McClatchy started talking about synergies between their Charlotte and Raleigh papers. It took no time for back office costs to get trimmed ... and less than two years before the effects spilled into the newsroom.

I guess the Cooke family thinks people who are scared of losing their jobs are also stupid.

I spent a good amount of time trying to figure out

the possible political implications here in NC regarding this purchase of 13 local newspapers by one entity. What was really intriguing to me was the purchase of the 10 weekly papers. What I can't figure out is, as you were referring to above, is the idea to consolidate reporting and advertising in the weekly newspapers into one business unit and then virtually all the resulting layoffs will be virtually small numbers a few months down the road, so it won't cause a ripple in this economy? Will these weekly papers now share a centralized printing press? Will the tone of the newspaper change to a more conservative (see: Lying and the lying liars) bent, or will that LOCAL news the new owner purports to be selling as the elixer of profits in small towns be reported in a more factual manner?

I was really unable to come up with much that felt rock solid in any way, which is why I decided to report the story here with little in the way of commentary.

Call me jaded, but whenever I see a new outlet moved, I wonder if the politics of the corporation that now owns them will become even MORE underhanded and dishonest than the last corporation.

North Carolina. Turning the South Blue!

The entire list of the weeklies below.

They are the Beaufort-Hyde News of Belhaven, the Bertie-Ledger Advance of Windsor, The Chowan Herald of Edenton, the Duplin Times of Kenansville, The Enterprise of Williamston, the Farmville Enterprise, the Perquimans Weekly of Elizabeth City, the Standard Laconic of Snow Hill, the Times-Leader of Ayden-Grifton and the Weekly Herald of Robersonville.

North Carolina. Turning the South Blue!