Magazine article Editor & Publisher

Arkansas's Hussman Buys Chattanooga JOA Paper

Magazine article Editor & Publisher

Arkansas's Hussman Buys Chattanooga JOA Paper

Article excerpt

Rejecting higher bids, McDonald sells Free Press to another family publisher

SHUNNING HIGHER BIDS and bigger chains, the Chattanooga Free Press has agreed to be purchased by WEHCO Media, the family-owned company that owns the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette. Terms were not disclosed.

Frank McDonald, president and chairman of the family-owned Free Press, founded 60 years ago by his father, said the firm had invited 13 newspaper operators to bid but ultimately accepted an offer from a company it knew well.

"We pretty much handpicked the ones we wanted to bid as being organizations that would mix pretty smoothly," he said, adding that his family "just felt like we'd be more comfortable" selling to someone the family had known for years. He took comfort in the knowledge that the Free Press would become WEHCO's second-largest paper--and receive commensurate attention.

McDonald said the next generation of family members lacked interest in operating the newspaper.

FAMILY DISINTEREST

"We've got a big family and the stock is owned by a lot of family members," McDonald said. "Not enough of them would have been that interested in taking over the paper."

Walter E. Hussman Jr., president and CEO of WEHCO, said the purchase was bittersweet for him. "When I heard they were selling, I was sort of sad," Hussman said."Family ownership, local ownership, is a real plus."

That said, Hussman insisted that, despite being some 500 miles from his home base in Little Rock, the Chattanooga paper was a good fit with his company, which was founded in 1909 by his grandfather and today also owns four smaller Arkansas dailies, a Texas daily, a television station, two radio stations and some cable TV systems.

He said he had explored purchasing dailies that clustered better with its current holdings, but ultimately decided to concentrate on Chattanooga because it was a strong market and a powerful opportunity.

"In the end, our corporate cultures are very similar," he said. "We are both family owned and treat our employees very well, as if they were family." Hussman has asked all members of the McDonald family and all Free Press employees to stay on.

The afternoon Free Press is the leader in the joint operating agreement with the morning Chattanooga Times in Tennessee's third largest city. McDonald said the JOA was profitable for both papers.

Hussman said he was not daunted by the prospect of buying into a JOA and did not feel that owning the afternoon newspaper would be a problem, despite the long-term decline in the number and circulation of afternoon papers. …

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