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Austin American-Statesman is for sale and Houston Chronicle owners may be interested

Austin newspaper is for sale and Chronicle owners may be interested

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Austin's flagship paper is now for sale. Photo courtesy of VishwaGujarat.com

The company that owns the Austin American-Statesman has put the daily newspaper up for sale along with seven community newspapers across Central Texas and a number of websites.

On Tuesday, October 31, Atlanta-based Cox Media Group said it was seeking a buyer or buyers for its Central Texas media properties as well as two daily newspapers in Palm Beach County, Florida.

Kim Guthrie, president of Cox Media Group, says the media company wants to concentrate on markets where it operates a broader mix of media outlets.

“After careful consideration, we have made the difficult but strategic decision to put our newspapers in Palm Beach and Austin up for sale,” Guthrie says in a statement. “We have made the decision that we will be better equipped to operate our newspapers in Atlanta and Ohio, where we have the integrated opportunity with our TV and radio operations.”

The potential sale of the Statesman comes as newspapers cope with slumping revenue for print advertising and declining readership for print products.

“When Kim called last week to share this decision with me, she made it clear that this is not a reflection of the value the Statesman delivers to our readers, to our advertisers and to CMG [Cox Media Group],” Statesman Publisher Susie Gray Biehle told employees in a memo. “But as the media business continues to change, it is crucial that CMG adapt its business strategy to navigate these disruptive times in ways that benefit the entire media portfolio.”

The Statesman employs more than 200 people.

In a Facebook post about the Statesman news, Judy Maggio, a veteran TV journalist in Austin, wrote: “Thinking of our wonderful friends and fellow journalists at the Statesman and hoping this will all work out well. We need quality newspapers/news organizations now more than ever.”

In its own report about the potential sale of the Statesman, the newspaper noted that it’s been on the market before. Cox put the paper up for sale in August 2008 but pulled it off the market in August 2009.

The sale of the paper does not include the Statesman’s headquarters, which sits along South Congress Avenue and overlooks Lady Bird Lake. In December 2015, Cox sold the Statesman’s coveted lakefront property to a Cox family entity, the Statesman says. Austin-based Endeavor Real Estate Group has been tapped to create a redevelopment plan for the nearly 19-acre site. 

It’s anyone’s guess as to who might buy the Statesman or even whether a sale ends up happening. However, Rick Edmonds, media business analyst at the Poynter Institute, a nonprofit journalism school in St. Petersburg, Florida, offers four potential suitors:

  • Gannett, which owns USA Today and more than 100 other daily newspapers around the country. In Texas, Gannett owns the daily newspapers in Abilene, Corpus Christi, San Angelo, and Wichita Falls.
  • GateHouse Media, which owns 125 daily newspapers. Although it doesn’t own any media outlets here, GateHouse’s Center for News & Design is located in Austin. The center, which employs more than 240 people, carries out design and editing functions for more than 250 daily and weekly newspapers, including the Dallas Morning News (which GateHouse does not own) and the features sections of the Statesman.
  • Hearst Newspapers, which publishes 24 daily newspapers in the U.S., including the Houston Chronicle and San Antonio Express-News.
  • A wealthy investor like Amazon’s Jeff Bezos, who bought The Washington Post in 2013.

Edmonds says the Statesman would be an attractive acquisition for a media company or a well-off investor because of Austin’s status as the state capital, the presence of the University of Texas’ flagship campus, the region’s rapid growth, and Austin's vibrant cultural scene.

Based on daily circulation, a key measure of readership, the Statesman is the fifth largest newspaper in Texas, behind the Dallas Morning News, Houston Chronicle, San Antonio Express-News, and Fort Worth Star-Telegram.