Morris Publishing Sells the News and Farmer to GateHouse Media

AUGUSTA, Ga – As part of a strategic restructuring to focus its business on lifestyle publications, property development and new business, Morris Communications Co. announced today that it has signed an agreement to sell the assets of Morris Publishing Group, including the Augusta Chronicle and the News and Farmer to GateHouse Media.

The sale also includes 10 other daily newspapers, numerous non-daily publications and associated websites and digital assets. The transaction is expected to close on October 2, 2017. Terms were not disclosed.

“This is exciting for our readers and community,” said Stephen Wade, president of Chronicle Media, the managing group of the News and Farmer. “Gatehouse offers extensive new content that I know our subscribers will love. For example, SEC football fans will get the benefits that come with the new company owning the local newspapers where the universities of Florida, Alabama and Missouri are located.”

“Gatehouse is committed to the communities it serves,” continued Wade. “I’ve led operations in several of their markets, and I know The Chronicle will continue to be an excellent community partner. Augusta gets the benefit of having the resources available from a large, national company while continuing to have the guidance and love from the Morris family that they have exhibited for nearly 90 years.”

“Since my father took a job as bookkeeper at The Chronicle in 1929, our family has been dedicated to journalism, and to the readers and advertisers in the communities we serve,” said William S. “Billy” Morris III, chairman of Morris Communications and publisher of The Chronicle. “Although this has been a difficult decision for me, we have found a wonderful buyer for the newspapers in GateHouse, as they are strongly committed to providing good community coverage for readers and effective solutions for advertisers.”

Under terms of the sale, Wade will continue as president of The Augusta Chronicle. Billy Morris will continue as publisher of The Augusta Chronicle and will oversee editorial-page policy for the three Morris newspapers in Georgia -- The Chronicle, the Savannah Morning News and The Athens Banner-Herald. The Morris family will retain ownership of The Augusta Chronicle building and property in downtown Augusta. The family is currently exploring options for redevelopment of their facilities.

GateHouse Media is a division of New Media Investment Group, a publicly traded company (NEWM) on the New York Stock Exchange. It is one of the largest newspaper companies in the country, owning more than 130 daily newspapers and more than 500 non-daily publications across the United States.

New Media is very excited to welcome the Morris publications and their employees into our company,” said Michael E. Reed, New Media president and chief executive officer. “For more than 80 years, the Morris family has built and operated an incredible collection of local media assets. We are honored that the family has chosen us to uphold the rich tradition of journalism and innovation they have established. This transaction will expand our footprint into new states and add some very attractive markets to our local media portfolio. We see strong synergies between our two companies and look forward to the value creation opportunity that will exist as we combine the portfolios.”

“Every newspaper company in America is battling trends and redirected advertising dollars, so it is necessary for newspapers to be part of a large newspaper group to build and maintain the necessary resources to compete, “said Morris. We are deeply grateful for the many friendships and business relationships we have enjoyed for these many years and look forward to the impact the next generation will make.”

William S. (Will) Morris IV, president and CEO of Morris Communications, said, “Although the decision to leave the newspaper business was a tough one for our family, we are enthusiastic about our plans to diversify our business holdings with print and digital communications and real estate development. We have a solid team in place to take the business in a prosperous new direction.”

Daily papers included in the sale, in addition to the three Georgia-based newspapers, are The St. Augustine (Fla.) Record, The Florida Times-Union, the Amarillo (Texas) Globe-News and Lubbock (Texas) Avalanche-Journal, The Topeka (Kan.) Capital-Journal, Conway (Ark.) Log Cabin Democrat, and the Juneau Empire and Kenai Peninsula Clarion in Alaska.

The Morris family will retain ownership of Buzz on Biz and Augusta magazine, Georgia Trend magazine, and several city and specialty magazines in the other communities. These will be operated by Morris Media Network, a global magazine company with titles in travel, enthusiast and lifestyle categories. A commercial printing operation in Savannah and all Augusta real estate holdings will also be retained.

Derek May, currently president of Morris Publishing Group, will take a new leadership role as chief operating officer of Morris Communications.

“I’ve considered it a blessing to be around such talented individuals who work for our company,” said May. “These are great people, passionate about what they do, and committed to their communities.”

The Morris family is active in agribusiness, broadband communications, real estate, and hospitality, including the Augusta Marriott hotel and a new hotel to be built on the site of the old jail at Ninth and Reynolds Streets.

“We are enthusiastic about our current and future business ventures,” Will Morris said. “With this sale, we will pursue a range of new possibilities. We intend to keep making a difference in the world, as we have for more than 80 years.”