Gannett shareholders approve GateHouse merger, paving way for union of 2 largest newspaper chains

Posted at 11:49 AM, Nov 14, 2019

Hundreds of local newspapers are now under one umbrella company, making it the largest US media company by print circulation and completing a deal that has journalists and advocates for strong local media worried about the future.

New Media Investment Group, parent company of GateHouse Media, announced its plan to acquire Gannett in August. On Thursday, the deal was approved in a shareholder vote at Gannett's Virginia headquarters. New Media shareholders also voted to approve the deal earlier in the day.

The merger combines the two largest US newspaper chains under a new company, which will keep the Gannett name. Gannett owns USA Today and more than 100 local newspapers, including The Arizona Republic and The Des Moines Register. GateHouse publishes more than 100 daily newspapers which, together with the weekly newspapers and other publications it owns, give it a presence in 39 states. The combined company now accounts for more than one-sixth of the remaining daily papers in the US, according to Nieman Lab .

The deal, originally valued at $1.4 billion, has lost significant value in the wake of New Media's stock plummeting over the last two weeks. As Nieman Lab's Joshua Benton noted , New Media's stock closed at $10.70 on the Friday prior to the merger news. On Nov. 14, the stock opened at $6.65.

Michael Reed was named the CEO and chairman of the new Gannett. Paul Bascobert, who was brought on as CEO of Gannett in August, is serving as CEO of the "combined company's operating subsidiary," according to the companies' announcement of the deal. The new leadership sparked concern internally that USA Today will phase out its print edition since Bascobert repeatedly stressed a "digital transformation," Poynter reported . Bascobert denounced that rumor in an internal memo .

"We appreciate the support we have received from New Media and Gannett shareholders for the merger," Reed said in a statement Thursday. "Together, we will be stronger, with a more viable path to growth for our shareholders and employees, while sustaining journalism in hundreds of markets across the country and enhancing the services we provide to small and midsized businesses nationally."

The companies said in August the merger would save about $275 million to $300 million annually by combining costs. But they haven't shared details on where they will make cuts. The NewsGuild, which represents more than 20,000 journalists, released a study earlier this month that argued the merger threatens journalism, driving down wages and potentially eliminating jobs.

Journalists at the companies have feared more cuts across newsrooms ahead of the merger. In October, editorial employees at The Arizona Republic voted to unionize after several weeks of public lobbying that was scrutinized by management .