Mail Tribune and Daily Tidings sold to Rosebud Media

Southern Oregon's largest and oldest media firm has been acquired by Rosebud Media LLC, which has agreed to buy the Mail Tribune and Ashland Daily Tidings from New Media Investment Group Inc.

The $15 million deal was announced Tuesday, and the newspaper's staff was notified in an afternoon meeting. The sale includes all of Southern Oregon Media Group properties, including the Nickel. The group has about 80 employees.

Rosebud Media principal Steven Saslow's purchase price was seven times the newspaper's 2016 adjusted earnings, said Jason Taylor, GateHouse Media president of Western U.S. Publishing Operations. Saslow, who was unavailable for comment, is expected to arrive in Medford within the next week. GateHouse is the newspaper operations arm of New Media Investment Group.

Saslow, of the greater New York area, is CEO of True North Entertainment, a media content provider, according to his LinkedIn profile. He is also co-founder and former CEO of THINK Televisual Network Inc., a multimedia platform providing television news. He has more than 35 years' experience in radio and media.

Amazon founder Jeff Bezos rocked the media world when he acquired the Washington Post in 2014. But small-market dailies are generally acquired from private ownership by large, publicly traded communications firms. In announcing the transaction, Taylor said market strength and distance from competitors made the Mail Tribune attractive to someone with innovative plans.

"I look at it as a real statement of their belief that there is a huge opportunity here. It is rare in today's marketplace to see that kind of multiple paid for a property," Taylor said. "It's a stand-alone market. It's an ideal market for doing new things without the threat of competition. A lot of metropolitan markets touch each other and they overlap. The greater Medford area is very isolated with unique content, the high schools are separated, everything is separated."

Taylor said Saslow began his pursuit of the newspaper six months ago and the sale is expected to close in the middle of February. The Southern Oregon newspapers would be the first papers owned by Rosebud.

"A lot of folks across the country kick the tires, so to speak, when it comes to purchasing a newspaper. But then there have been pioneers like Jeff Bezos, and other nontraditional buyers who have led to a lot of entrepreneurial ideas."

Taylor anticipates the new owner will take a more active role in the community.

"We've seen a lot of success across the country both in properties we own and properties we consult with in the launching of community events," Taylor said. "I think the new owners are in agreement with that. It's a big part of the future of Medford.

"What newspapers have always done is attract readers, and you monetize those readers through advertising," he said.

New Media Investment Group, which acquired the Mail Tribune in September 2013, owns 121 dailies and more than 600 weekly, community and specialty publications, as well as 525 websites. The Mail Tribune is just the second paper to be sold in the chain, while dozens have been acquired in recent years.

"While selling one of our businesses is never easy, the sale of the Mail Tribune represents our continued commitment to pursue strategic transactions that are in the best interests of New Media's shareholders," New Media President and CEO Michael E. Reed said in a statement.

"The Mail Tribune continues to be a leading daily newspaper in Southern Oregon and was recently awarded five first-place recognitions from the Oregon Newspaper Publishers Association. We are confident the newspaper will continue to produce in-depth and award-winning content under its new ownership. We would like to thank all the great employees at the Mail Tribune for all their great work during their time as part of our family."

New Media concurrently announced the $21.2 million purchase of the Ohio publishing division of Wooster Republican Printing Co., adding five dailies and 18 weeklies to its fold.

“Despite the strategic sale of the Mail Tribune, New Media remains a net acquirer of local media assets, having deployed over $120 million for acquisitions in 2016 and completing our first acquisition of 2017, as announced today," Reed said. "We remain confident in our ability to re-deploy the proceeds from the sale of the Mail Tribune within our stated goals for acquisitions.”

Current Mail Tribune Publisher Grady Singletary will remain with GateHouse, but will stay with the paper for a few months during a transition period.

The company's role of providing news content has remained unchanged during a time of industry upheaval, Singletary said.

"The things that have changed more dramatically have been on the marketing side of our business," he said. "The decline in the spending by national retail chains and the shift to digital has been rather dramatic. GateHouse probably did the most for us because of their scale and size."

The newspaper industry continues to morph and evolve in the digital age, he said.

"We're at the forefront of that, and I don't see the new ownership changing that direction, because that's where our entire industry is moving," Singletary said.

 — Reach reporter Greg Stiles at 541-776-4463 or Follow him on Twitter @GregMTBusiness.

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