Digital First Media is reportedly planning to make an offer to buy USA Today publisher Gannett

The logos of Gannett Co and USA Today outside their corporate headquarters in McLean, Virginia

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The logos of Gannett Co and USA Today outside their corporate headquarters in McLean, Virginia
source
Thomson Reuters

  • Media News Group Enterprises, better known as Digital First Media, is reportedly planning to make an offer to buy USA Today publisher Gannett Co. at $12 per share.
  • The offer would represent a 23% premium over Gannett’s Friday closing share price of $9.75.
  • The Wall Street Journal, citing people familiar with the matter, said MNG Enterprises Inc. has already accumulated a 7.5% position in Gannett’s stock.
  • MNG and its hedge fund backer Alden have acquired a reputation for slashing costs at its media investments leaning on a strategy of layoffs.

A hedge-fund-backed media group with a reputation for swooping in on vulnerable local papers and cleaning out their newsrooms is planning to make an offer to buy USA Today publisher Gannett Co. at $12 a share.

The Wall Street Journal, citing people familiar with the matter, said MNG Enterprises Inc., better known as Digital First Media, has already accumulated a 7.5% position in Gannett’s stock, and the offer would represent a 23% premium over Friday’s closing share price of $9.75.

MNG and its hedge fund backer and largest shareholder Alden Global Capital LLC have a reputation for slashing costs at its media investments leaning on a strategy of layoffs and zero-based budgeting, demanding that operators justify their annual expenses.

Shares in Gannett, a McLean, Virginia-based publisher, have been inching their way back after falling heavily over 2018, shedding about 15% in the past 12 months.

The stock price, like many other traditional media, have been on a downward slide for a few years now, leaving the company with a market value of about $1.1 billion. During the first nine months of 2018, revenue from its advertising dropped 7% year-on-year to $1.23 billion. Fourth quarter reporting due on February 14 will be critical for Gannett and its trajectory.

MNG, meanwhile, will publicly urge the publisher to put itself on the market, bring in some bankers to facilitate a sale, enter into talks with Digital First about a deal and how best to review its strategy before hiring a new CEO and put a cork in acquiring any new assets, The Journal was told.

It’s not the first time MNG has made a play for Gannett, according to The Journal. People close to MNG said that possibly more than one approach has been made just in the last month or so.

The play comes as Gannett faces a leadership vacuum, with its CEO Robert Dickey due to vacate in May.

It isn’t clear whether Gannett will more seriously consider this latest offer, the Journal added.

In addition to publishing USA Today, Gannett owns and operates many other well-known newspapers from the Arizona Republic and the Naples Daily News in Florida.

MNG is one of the largest newspaper chains in the country and has a “contentious history” with the newspaper industry after buying local papers and then heavily cutting costs, The Journal noted.

Digital First Media now carries about 200 newspapers and titles – most recently the Denver Post and the Boston Herald.

Digital First Media cut staff at the Denver Post and infuriated unions, but streamlined operations to turn sluggish performers into profitable newspaper operators.

The Denver dispute was among the more high-profile stand-offs pitting a newsroom against its owners.

Print media has been getting hammered in a digital age. Advertising and sales revenue are down, kick-starting a rush of takeovers as owners seek to achieve economies of scale – often through layoffs.