They’re not writing the headlines yet, but media industry insiders are whispering about a possible sale of the Log Cabin Democrat and three other GateHouse Media newspapers in Arkansas to the Paxton Media chain of Paducah, Kentucky.
A June deal looks likely if talks don’t fall through.
GateHouse, the big but miserly chain that owns more American papers than any other, has owned the Log Cabin, in Conway, for less than two years. The other papers mentioned in the deal, which GateHouse officials said has not been completed, are the Van Buren Press Argus-Courier, the Newport Independent and the Heber Springs Sun-Times.
(Update, June 4, 2019: Arkansas Business reports more on the pending sale, plus official word from the Log Cabin Democrat.
Jennifer Allen, a GateHouse group publisher who oversees the Independent, as well as the Pine Bluff Commercial, the Hot Springs Village Voice and several other papers, didn’t dispute reports of sale negotiations, but said in an email to Arkansas Business that “nothing has been finalized yet.”
GateHouse announced its acquisition of the Log Cabin Democrat, owned for a century by the Frank Robins family of Conway, from Morris Communications of Augusta, Georgia, in August 2017. The Cabin was part of a $120 million deal that included 10 other daily papers.
After that acquisition, Kelly Sublett became publisher of the Log Cabin, the Sun-Times and the Van Buren County Democrat, publicly traded GateHouse’s weekly in Clinton. Sublett referred questions about the sale talks to Matt Guthrie, GateHouse’s regional vice president based in the Dallas area. Guthrie did not respond to several requests for comment.
Paxton Media, a private company with some 40 daily papers, a TV station and numerous weeklies in 10 states, bought Arkansas’ last non-chain family-owned newspaper, the Batesville Guard, a year ago. The Guard had been owned by the O.E. Jones family of Batesville for eight decades.
Paxton also owns the Jonesboro Sun and the Russellville Courier in Arkansas. The Log Cabin Democrat, with a circulation of about 4,000, is already being printed on Paxton’s presses in Russellville. The Batesville Guard is printed at Paxton’s plant in Jonesboro.
Arkansas Press Association figures put the Heber Springs and Van Buren County papers’ circulation at about 1,650 each, and the Newport Independent’s at more than 1,700.
Meanwhile, the Wall Street Journal reported on Thursday that GateHouse has opened discussions on a possible merger with Gannett Co., “a deal that would bring together the two largest newspaper groups in the country.”
Gannett prevailed in a proxy fight last month to turn back a hostile takeover bid by Digital First Media, a hedge-fund-backed publishing group.