Monday, August 7, 2023

116 Laps Around Fenway Park, Barefoot – July 2023 M&A Activity

Reade Brower, the intrepid barefoot Hawaiian shirt-clad serial entrepreneur, announced the sale of his company’s 22 newspapers to the National Trust for Local News (NTLN). Based in Denver, Colorado, the nonprofit organization is acquiring five daily newspapers and 17 weekly papers from Masthead Maine, the news organization that Brower has assembled over the past decade as opportunities arose and he was the right person in the right place at the right time with the right resources. By deciding to pass his ownership of the papers over to NTLN, Brower has sidestepped the path of many of the other regional publishers that have sold out to one of the larger financial buyers. In doing so, he expressed his hope that his sale would be different: newsroom staff would be retained, and the high quality of the papers be maintained for the next generation.

Many newspapers in the US trace their history back well over a hundred years. But for many publishers, the race has become too painful. Exhausted, they drop out. Recent research indicates that on average two newspapers go out of business each and every week, a pace of decline that has been sustained, on average, for the past two decades. Moreover, many daily papers have reduced the frequency of their printed editions. Weekly papers drop from seven to three or four days a week, biweeklies become weekly papers. Stories of gutted newsrooms abound. The reporters that remain are overworked and underpaid. The loss is felt particularly hard in rural communities. With the cessation of local news reporting, “news deserts” are popping up where there is no accountability at the local municipal and county levels. Sports and community events go un-recorded or transitioned to the online ether of the internet.

One strategy to save struggling newspapers has been the conversion of newspaper publishing companies to tax-exempt nonprofit organizations dedicated to serving the public good, supported by a mix of donations, renewed emphasis on paid subscriptions, and the erection of paywalls for online access, as well as retaining what is left of the traditional print advertising base. In late 2019, The Salt Lake Tribune spearheaded the concept, obtained IRS approval of its application for tax-exempt status, and became the first nonprofit major metropolitan newspaper.

Other conversions followed, including The Chicago Sun-Times, which converted to nonprofit status via a merger with the local public radio station, a natural and convenient pathway given public radio’s focus on news and deep experience with nonprofit status.

There are several models that are playing out in the effort to save big-city papers. The publishers that have switched to nonprofit status, as did The Salt Lake Tribune, are distinctly different from the for-profit publishers which are separate from, but now owned by, a nonprofit foundation that acquires the paper. For example, The Philadelphia Inquirer is a for-profit company that is owned by the nonprofit Lenfest Institute. The other method of saving a drowning major news organization is the purchase by a wealthy buyer, probably best known and exemplified by Jeff Bezos’ purchase of The Washington Post. The jury is still out on which model will prevail in the efforts to save the major metro newspapers, however in the local newspaper business, the nonprofit model is gaining traction, supported and nurtured by the National Trust for Local News.

Santa Barbara News-Press Abruptly Closes

Ampersand Publishing, the owner of the venerable Santa Barbara News-Press, filed Chapter 7 bankruptcy, effectively starting the process of liquidating under the auspices of the US Bankruptcy Court. The paper ceased publication abruptly on a Friday in July when the company could no longer fund its payroll, which ended the run of the newspaper that began in 1868 as the weekly Santa Barbara Post. The paper punched above its weight as a serious regional paper and gained national recognition in 1962 when it was awarded a Pulitzer Prize for its editorials exposing the John Birch Society.

The paper was purchased from the New York Times for a reported $110 million in 2000 by Wendy McCaw, the wealthy ex-wife of Craig McCaw the founder of the early cell phone pioneer McCaw Communications. The end of the Santa Barbara News-Press newspaper marks the end of not only the publication of the paper, but also the end of her ignominious and highly contentious term of ownership. A Santa Barbara resident, she initially expressed her intention to leave the day-to-day management and editorial direction to the professionals who ran the paper. McCaw publicly stated that she was committed to preserving the paper’s independence and unquestioned integrity.

After a very hopeful start, buoyed by Santa Barbara residents’ feelings that local ownership was preferable to the big-city east coast owners, her ownership quickly turned sour. She launched into an impassioned and obsessive animal rights campaign, hijacking the front page to express her personal positions, a follow-up to her earlier successful efforts to free the killer whale Keiko, the star of Free Willy. The editorial page took on an increasingly acerbic anti-local government position, often personally attacking local politicians. Controversy broke out over McCaw’s repeated interference with the editorial stories, and a full-blown exodus of talent ensued. Labor disputes followed; the Teamsters union was invited in and overwhelmingly won certification. The battles played out in print and gained national attention. Taking a cue from Orson Welles’ Citizen Kane, in 2008 local filmmakers produced Citizen McCaw, a damning and fascinating documentary about McCaw’s tenure and impact on the paper and community.

The printing presses stopped running at the Santa Barbara News-Press in April. The paper reported that they were unable to run the press due to power issues and would be temporarily an all-digital publication until the power problems were resolved. Despite the assertion that the suspension of print was an interim step, the printed edition never resumed. The final story of the famed Santa Barbara paper will be written on the court docket in the Chapter 7 bankruptcy.

Stop The Presses in Coal Country

The residents of McDowell County in West Virginia lost their local paper a couple months ago and have joined the ranks of Americans living in a news desert. The Welch News was owned and managed by Missy Nester, a local resident who bought the paper in 2018 and poured her heart, soul, and pocketbook into the paper which had been published for almost 100 years. Like many other papers, The Welch News, at one time a daily paper, cut its schedule of print runs down last year from three times a week to just weekly.

The paper, with a total staff of four, faced a daunting challenge to maintain operations in a region with a declining population, housed in an old building in which the roof was failing. The paper was printed on a vintage 1966 Goss coldset web press which was housed in the basement. Many of Nester’s neighbors wanted the paper to survive and would help out in ways that only works in small towns. Nester would find cash or even meals taped to her front door to help her in the effort to keep the paper afloat. The sacrifices just became too much, and the paper printed its last edition in March.

The county once had almost 100,00 residents and was the world’s largest coal producer, calling itself “America’s coal bin.” Times have changed. The remaining 17,850 residents no longer have a source of local news, reduced to finding out what is happening in their community on Twitter, that is if they have cell service or internet which is not certain, especially among the elderly that relied on news in print.

The Accidental News Baron

Reade Brower, the entrepreneur who sold his papers to the NTLN, was quoted as saying that much of his success has been due to scrapping and hustling; a bit of being in the right place at the right time, and more than anything else, simply his grit. As if being in the newspaper business is not a sufficient test of that grit, Brower, a committed runner, ran the lesser-known Boston Marathon, a fundraiser of the Red Sox Foundation in which participants circle the practice track inside the famed Fenway Park 116 times which achieves the required 26.2 miles. Since he had completed marathons in the past, Brower needed an extra challenge; he ran the race barefoot on the hardscrabble track. He finished in last place. The lights were out, and everybody else had gone home.

For Brower’s 22 newspapers in Maine, a new chapter has begun, and the lights are still on.
2023 July - Mergers and Acquisitions in the Printing, Packaging, Paper & Related Industries

Deal Party #1
(Surviving Entity)

Party #1 Address

Deal Party #2

Party #2 Address

Deal Structure

One Rock Capital Partners No Data New York, NY Constantia Flexibles
(Portfolio co. Wendell Group)
No Data Vienna, Austria 7/31/23 No Data Acquisition
Flexible packaging Link
Mittera $555.4 Des Moines, IA The AngstromGroup No Data Cleveland, OH 7/28/23 No Data Acquisition Commercial printing Link
Mt. Royal Printing
(Advised by Graphic Arts Advisors)
No Data Baltimore, MD Westland Enterprises No Data Forestville, MD 7/20/23 No Data Acquisition
(Graphic Arts Advisors)
Commercial printing Link
Marek Group $41.9 Waukesha, WI HighNote No Data Louisville, KY 7/18/23 No Data Acquisition Marketing execution services Link
Dumont Printing No Data Fresno, CA ValPrint No Data Fresno, CA 7/13/23 No Data Acquisition Commercial printing Link
National Trust for Local News No Data Denver, CO The Portland Press Herald
(+21 titles) (Prop. Masthead Maine)
No Data Portland, ME 7/11/23 No Data Acquisition Regional Newspapers Link
Ancor Capital Partners
w/ Merit Capital Partners
No Data Southlake, TX
Chicago, IL
Displayit No Data Irvine, CA 7/11/23 No Data Acquisition Retail display & environments Link
Fair Andreen No Data Belvidere, IL CityPress
(Advised by Graphic Arts Advisors)
No Data Waukesha, WI 7/11/23 No Data Acquisition
(Graphic Arts Advisors)
Commercial printing Link
Resource Label Group
(Port co. Ares Management)
No Data Franklin, TN TQL Packaging Solutions No Data Dallas, TX 7/11/23 No Data Acquisition Labels, & flexible packaging Link
Tecnau No Data Ivrea, Italy Sitma Machinery No Data Spilamberto, Italy 7/11/23 No Data Acquisition Postpress equipment Link
Minuteman Press, Avon Lake
(New franchisee)
No Data Avon Lake, OH Avon Lake Printing No Data Avon Lake, OH 7/7/23 No Data Acquisition Printing & copying Link
CCL Industries $4,896 Toronto, ON Oomph Made Ltd. $5.0 Liphook, UK 7/4/23 $5.4 Acquisition RFID cards & wristbands Link

2023 July - Bankruptcy Filings in the Printing, Packaging, Paper & Related Industries

Filing Party


Case #

Filing Party Address


Region & City


Attorney for Debtor

Chapter 11 Filings:
No Chapter 11 Filings Found this Month --- --- --- --- --- --- --- --- ---
Chapter 7 Filings:
Ampersand Publishing, LLC 7/21/23 No Data 23-10601 Santa Barbara, CA 9th Central CA
Santa Barbara
Ronald A. Clifford III Anthony A. Friedman Santa Barbara News-Press Publisher

2023 July - Non-Bankruptcy Closures in the Printing, Packaging, Paper & Related Industries

Closed Company / Facility

Date of Closure

Closing Address
Related Party Related Party
Date Closure Public


UPM - Paper mill Dec-23 No Data Plattling, Germany UPM Communication Papers Augsburg, Germany 7/25/23 Graphic paper production Link
AngstromGraphics Sep-23 No Data Cleveland, OH None N/A 7/28/23 Commercial printing Link
The Welch News Mar-23 No Data Welch, WV None N/A 7/28/23 Community newspaper Link
Balfour & Co. - Printing facility 10/31/23 No Data Dallas, TX None N/A 7/7/23 Yearbook production Link