To raise cash for a planned expansion, Freedom Newspapers Inc. in Irvine has agreed to sell two small Midwestern papers to a Nebraska publishing company. Terms of the deal were not announced.
Freedom is the holding company for the Orange County Register and 28 smaller dailies.
Only once before has the 64-year-old chain--considered one of the most profitable in the nation--sold a paper. In 1978, Freedom sold its Hornell, N.Y., daily, the Evening Tribune, to Seneca Newspaper Group.
The papers being sold to the Omaha World-Herald Co. are the 12,000-circulation Columbus Telegram in Columbus, Neb., acquired by Freedom in 1969, and the 11,000-circulation Huron Daily Plainsman in Huron, S.D., which Freedom bought in 1980.
Freedom officials said that both papers have been profitable.
In a statement to Freedom employees, corporate President D.R. Segal said, "Freedom's plans for future expansion motivated the sale." Segal could not be reached for comment, and other Freedom executives declined to elaborate.
In previous statements, Segal has said that Freedom intends to acquire other newspapers and television stations. In addition to its newspapers, the chain owns five television stations and three weekly papers.
The sale is expected to be completed in early September and is dependent on approval of Freedom shareholders and members of the partnership of Freedom employees that owns a 40% share of the Columbus Telegram.
David Dawson, publisher of the Columbus paper, said the Omaha World-Herald Co. had been actively seeking to enter the Columbus market for about five years. He said Freedom was not actively seeking a buyer for the paper when the World-Herald inquired about its availability.
Dawson said he believes that Freedom sold the two papers because the price was right and because they are remote from Freedom's other properties, which are concentrated in California, Texas, Florida, Indiana, Ohio and North Carolina.
The Omaha World-Herald Co. owns the World-Herald, Nebraska's largest newspaper with a daily circulation of about 215,000.
Freedom is privately owned and does not reveal financial information. However, a lengthy and bitter suit between two factions of the chain's founding family revealed that former corporate executive Harry H. Hoiles, a son of Freedom founder R.C. Hoiles, valued the chain's assets at nearly $1.1 billion in 1985 when he offered to buy out the families of his sister, Mary Jane Hoiles Hardie, and his late brother, Clarence H. Hoiles.
In his statement Wednesday, Segal said that Freedom is not contemplating the sale of any other properties.