Thirty-one weekly newspapers in Orange County and the San Gabriel Valley were put up for sale Tuesday by Media General Inc., the Richmond, Va.-based media conglomerate that last year fended off a bitter hostile takeover attempt by Hollywood producer Burt Sugarman.
Media General said it was selling the community newspapers because they were geographically too far from the company's base in the Southeast and strategically too far from the firm's focus on daily newspapers.
The papers put on the block include nine titles published by South Orange County News in Mission Viejo, and 22 titles run by Highlander Publications of the City of Industry. Together, the two groups constitute Golden West Publishing Inc., which will be sold as a unit rather than in pieces. Thirteen of the publications circulate in Orange County.
Ron Redfern, chief executive of Golden West, said the 31 papers, all but one of which are distributed free of charge to community residents, had a combined circulation of 487,000 and gross revenue of about $15 million. While he would not disclose the price Media General is asking, he said weekly newspapers normally sell for one to two times gross.
Lee Dirks & Associates, a newspaper broker based in Birmingham, Mich., has been retained to handle the sale.
Media General said in a statement that "management demands for the West Coast operations are no longer prudent," and that "we prefer to concentrate our efforts on daily newspaper operations." The company's major properties include daily newspapers in Richmond, Va., and Tampa, Fla., and television and cable systems in the Southeast, and paper interests.
Media General's only other West Coast operation, a paper mill in Pomona, was sold to Sugarman last year after his bid to take over the entire company failed. The exceptionally bitter takeover fight attracted wide attention as a test case of the legality of some types of Class B stock, which can confer extra voting rights and are used by many family-owned media companies to thwart unwanted suitors. But Sugarman dropped his challenge of the stock structure when he abandoned his takeover attempt.
The Golden West Publishing group was put together by Media General in 1980 and 1981 with the purchase of several small weekly newspaper chains. Redfern said the company initially had planned to convert one or more of the papers to dailies, but ultimately chose not to take the risks by making the huge investments that would have been required.
Golden West employs about 350 people, Redfern said, and operations will continue as normal pending the sale. He said a number of companies had expressed interest in buying Golden West, but he declined to identify them.
Community weeklies have been in a strong growth niche in the newspaper business over the last several years, industry analysts say, although they rarely rival dailies in financial resources or editorial clout.
Redfern said the strength of the different Golden West weeklies closely tracked the local economies, with strong growth for papers such as the Laguna Niguel News in booming areas of South County and flatter performance at the San Gabriel Valley titles.
O.C. PAPERS FOR SALE
Here are the publications in Orange County offered for sale by Media General Inc.:
South Orange County News
Saddleback Valley News: 49,950
San Clemente News: 17,950
Laguna Beach News: 14,150
Laguna Niguel News: 13,700
Flight Jacket (serving the El Toro Marine Corps base): 13,000
Leisure World News: 11,700
Dana Point News: 11,050
Capistrano Valley News: 9,250
Rancho Santa Margarita News: 2,850
Highlander Publications *
Anaheim Hills Highlander
Yorba Linda Star
*Circulation numbers unavailable for individual Highlander publications.
Source: Media General Inc.