WAHOO – Berkshire Hathaway and Lee Enterprises announced Jan. 29 that Lee was buying The Omaha World-Herald and 30 other Berkshire daily newspaper holdings nationwide for $140 million.
Berkshire’s chairman indicated in a statement that he thought he was leaving his hometown newspaper and the other publications in good hands with Davenport, Iowa-based Lee. For the past 18 months, Lee has managed The World-Herald and other Berkshire newspapers under a 2018 operating agreement Buffett signed with Lee.
“We had zero interest in selling the group to anyone else for one simple reason: We believe that Lee is best positioned to manage through the industry’s challenges,” Buffett said in a statement.
Lee officials said the deal leaves the combined newspaper chain in a better position to navigate the industry’s future. They touted the scale of the acquisition, which nearly doubles the size of Lee’s nationwide audience and increases its daily newspaper holdings nationally from 50 to 81.
Perhaps even more critically, Buffett under the deal will be refinancing all of Lee’s long-term debt under favorable terms. Mary Junck, Lee’s chairwoman, called Buffett a “valuable partner that shares our commitment to local news.”
“BH Media properties are ones we know inside and out,” Junck said in a conference call.
The World-Herald in recent months has printed the Lincoln Journal Star and other newspapers Lee owns in eastern Nebraska. Lee noted that among its bedrock values is that “news and editorial policies and decisions are made locally without exception.”
Under the deal announced before markets opened on Wednesday, Lee is purchasing BH Media’s 30 daily papers, 49 weeklies and 32 other print products. The deal also includes the Buffalo News, a longtime Buffett holding that he had maintained as a separate entity when he bought The World-Herald in 2011.
BH Media’s holdings include the Richmond Times-Dispatch in Virginia and the Tulsa World in Oklahoma, along with dailies in Council Bluffs, North Platte, Kearney and Grand Island. In addition to the Journal Star, Lee’s current portfolio includes properties in St. Louis; Madison, Wisconsin; Davenport; Billings, Montana; Bloomington, Illinois; and Tucson, Arizona.
Buffett said Wednesday that he and investment partner Charlie Munger have admired the Lee organization for more than four decades. He had provided previous financing for Lee. He also lauded Lee for helping the BH Media newspapers outpace industry averages in digital revenue and market share under the current management agreement.
Berkshire will be providing the financing for Lee’s $140 million purchase of the newspapers plus refinancing all of Lee’s $400 million in other long-term debt at a 9% rate. After the deal closes, expected in March, Berkshire Hathaway will be Lee’s sole lender.
The deal specifically excludes the real estate associated with all the acquired papers. Lee will lease those properties back from Berkshire under a 10-year agreement.
Lee officials said the deal will increase its revenues by 87 percent and its earnings by 40 percent. Junck called the deal “a compelling and transformative transaction for Lee.”
“We know firsthand the power this acquisition brings for further accelerating our industry-leading digital revenue growth while maintaining our focus on delivering high-quality local news,” she said.
“BH Media Group’s publications and the Buffalo News play a vital role in the communities they serve and are a perfect fit for our portfolio,” she added in the conference call. “That’s why we are very excited about the opportunities ahead for Lee in capturing the value for readers, advertisers and shareholders created by this transaction.”
Lee stock was up 67 percent for the day when the announcement was made, closing at $2.10 per share on Jan. 29.
Lee Enterprise’s acquisition of BH Media means the company will also acquire several weekly newspapers including the Wahoo Newspaper, The Ashland Gazette and The News/Waverly, as well as the Gretna Breeze, Bellevue Leader, Papillion Times and Ralston Recorder.