April 21, 2016 Last Updated 9:26 am

Digital First News sells New England Newspapers Inc. to local ownership group

Sale announcement comes one day after the same chain, which recently picked up the Orange County Register and Riverside Press Enterprise at a bankruptcy auction, said it had sold off The Salt Lake Tribune

The newspaper chain Digital First News today announced the sale of New England Newspapers Inc., a day after the chain sold The Salt Lake Tribune to Paul Huntsman, the son of businessman and philanthropist Jon M. Huntsman. The papers that are part of the group sold include three dailies and one weekly: The Berkshire Eagle, The Brattleboro Reformer, the Bennington Banner — and the weekly Manchester Journal.

The papers were sold to a local group, Birdland Acquisition LLC whose principals are John C. “Hans” Morris, former president of Visa Inc., Fredric D. Rutberg, former Pittsfield District Court judg, Robert G. Wilmers, chairman and CEO of M&T Bank, and Stanford Lipsey, publisher emeritus of The Buffalo News.

icon175x175Digital First Media, which is the management company which owns MediaNews Group, Digital First Ventures, and 21st Century Media, which incorporates the old Journal Register Company, just recently was able to acquire the assets of Freedom Communications in a bankruptcy auction. In that auction, Tribune Publishing, which owns the Los Angeles Times and San Diego Union Tribune, appeared to have won the auction, which would have added the Orange County Register to its newspaper assets. But the Department of Justice stepped in objecting to the acquisition, and so Digital First Media won the auction. DFM owns papers in Southern California including the Los Angeles Daily News and Long Beach Press Telegram.

But DFM is hardly on solid financial group. A year ago the chain, owned by the private equity firm Alden Global Capital, attempted to sell itself whole, but had to back away when no seller interested in its dispersed holdings came forward to bid on the entire company.

“While the review process is not complete it has been determined that a sale of the Company as previously speculated is not in the best interest of shareholders at this time. However, we continue to have discussions concerning selected assets, and we are looking at potential acquisition opportunities,” then CEO John Paton and then COO Steve Rossi wrote at the time. At the time of that announcement of the failed sale attempt, it was also announced that Paton would step down at DFM and Rossi take over as CEO.

The sale will likely be very good news for local readers.

“As a first step, the new ownership group intends to add new jobs to the staff during the first year,” The Berkshire Eagle said in its sale announcement.

“Publisher Edward L. Woods will continue to lead the newspaper group with the current management team and staff remaining in place. They will be joined by a substantial number of new hires for positions in the newsroom, marketing, web and technical services, finance and accounting.”

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