Freedom Newspapers Buys Suburban Weeklies

TIMES STAFF WRITER

Freedom Newspapers Inc., owner of the Orange County Register, has acquired a group of suburban weekly newspapers in Orange and Los Angeles counties that were put up for sale last month by Media General Inc., staff members of the papers were told in meetings Monday.

The chain, Golden West Publishing Inc., includes nine titles that are part of the South Orange County News in Mission Viejo, as well as four weeklies in northern Orange County and 18 others in the San Gabriel Valley that are part of City of Industry-based Highlander Publications.

The weekly newspapers have a combined circulation of 487,000, nearly all distributed free to community residents. Circulation in Orange County is estimated at 200,000, of which about 130,000 is in South County.

Media General had said it wanted to sell Golden West as a unit, but the South Orange County News titles--such as the Saddleback Valley News--were considered particularly attractive because they are in an affluent and fast-growing area.

Media General Inc. of Richmond, Va., put the papers up for sale on Oct. 17, stating that they were too remote, both geographically and strategically, from the company's core daily newspaper operations in the East.

Douglas E. Hanes, president and publisher of Golden West Publishing Inc., said he was notified of the acquisition Monday by officials at Media General's corporate headquarters in Virginia.

"I think it's a real natural marriage to be taking place," Hanes said.

"We have been a very successful group of weeklies in the South Orange County area. Obviously, with the Register having a very strong presence in there, there's probably a lot of pioneering in our products."

Hanes said he called staff meetings to announce the acquisition to the newspaper chain's 350 employees.

Freedom was among a group of about 10 companies bidding for Golden West Publishing Inc.

Hanes said the acquisition is to become final sometime in the first quarter of 1990. He added that the price of the transaction has not yet been disclosed.

The Golden West papers have annual revenue of about $15 million. Analysts said such publications normally sell for about what they make in revenue. But the high level of interest could push up the price for Golden West.

Hanes said that no layoffs are anticipated "at this time."

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