Newspaper faceoff: Frying pan, or fire?

By: - August 14, 2019 7:00 am

Milwaukee Journal Sentinel office building

There’s a new wrinkle in the pending GateHouse Media bid to merge with Gannett, owner of the state’s largest daily newspaper.

Last week, the hedge fund subsidiary that owns Digital First Media, MNG Enterprises, told the SEC it had taken a 9.4% stake in New Media Investment Group, the owner of GateHouse and the vehicle through which the proposed GateHouse-Gannett combination was to be completed.

The move is significant because Gannett — which owns the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel and 10 other Wisconsin papers — earlier this year rebuffed Digital First’s acquisition bid.

MNG told the SEC it was “evaluating the terms” of the New Media-Gannett deal. It suggested that transaction might “not be in the best interest” of New Media shareholders and hinted it might vote against the merger. “This could be seen as a play by MNG to scoop up Gannett for itself after its failed bid earlier this year,” CNN reported.

While a GateHouse-Gannett combination has already sparked fears of more cuts and consolidations at Gannett’s 11 Wisconsin dailies, MNG/Digital First would be no white knight should it succeed in resurrecting its bid. 

As Urban Milwaukee editor Bruce Murphy observed this week, Digital First has an even more ruthless reputation for newsroom budget-cutting than Gannett or GateHouse. Noted CNN: “Last year, employees at the Denver Post gained national support when they rose up against what their editorial board termed the ‘vultures’” of Alden Global Capital, Digital First’s hedge fund owner. 

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Erik Gunn
Erik Gunn

Deputy Editor Erik Gunn reports and writes on work and the economy, health policy and related subjects, for the Wisconsin Examiner. He spent 24 years as a freelance writer for Milwaukee Magazine, Isthmus, The Progressive, BNA Inc., and other publications, winning awards for investigative reporting, feature writing, beat coverage, business writing, and commentary. An East Coast native, he previously covered labor for The Milwaukee Journal after reporting for newspapers in upstate New York and northern Illinois. He's a graduate of Beloit College (English Comp.) and the Columbia School of Journalism. Off hours he is the Examiner's resident Springsteen and Jackson Browne fanboy and model railroad nerd.