Stephens Buys Florida Newspaper at 7 Percent of 2006 Value

After a federal judge in Daytona Beach, Fla., approved the sale of the News-Journal Corp. for $20 million on Tuesday, Little Rock venture capitalists stood to take ownership of a media company the court valued at $272 million just four years ago.

Cox Enterprise Inc., the minority owner of the company, had received the appraisal as part of a 2004 lawsuit to force majority owner PMV Inc. to buy it out.

With the sale, Halifax Media Acquisitions LLC, described in the sale order as an affiliate of Stephens Capital Partners LLC and Stephens Investments Holdings LLC, will take possession of the company after paying about 7 percent of its 2006 value.

Stephens Capital Partners and Stephens Investments Holdings are controlled by Little Rock fancier Warren Stephens, CEO of Stephens Inc.

Warren Stephens also has a 50 percent stake in Stephens Media Group, which owns newspapers including the Times of North Little Rock and the Arkansas News Bureau.

The forced sale came over the protests of PMV, which in 2006 couldn't afford the $126 million it needed to buy out Cox's 47.5 percent stake in the company.

In January, PMV filed an objection with the court stating that the "patently unreasonable" value of $20.074 million "shocks the conscience" and should be rejected.

"The proposed purchase price for the sale of NJC to Stephens amounts to a virtual 'fire sale' of NJC," the filing stated.

Judge John Antoon II saw things otherwise. In reporting the sale order, the Daytona Beach News-Journal wrote that Antoon declined PMV's pleas to delay the sale until the economy perked up and said, of the low price, "This is the value today."

The paper also quoted a PMV attorney who said he didn't foresee the company appealing the ruling.