Family Firm Divests Itself of Media Holdings

Calkins cites flagging media market, high expenses

By April Hall

Calkins Media, a family firm with an 80-year history in newspapers, has sold off the last of its media holdings, citing the expense involved and changes in the market.

The Beaver County Times, Ellwood City Ledger, Bucks County Courier Times, The Intelligencer, the Burlington County Times (all serving the Philadelphia suburbs) and Calkins Digital will be purchased by New Media Investment Group, which announced the deal will cost $17.5 million. The sale also includes Calkins Digital Group, a press facility and all related websites and other digital operations. GateHouse Media, a subsidiary of New Media, will run the properties.

The Uniontown (Pa.) Herald-Standard, weekly Greene County (Pa.) Messenger and real estate company SWC Properties will be purchased by Ogden Newspapers. The terms of the Ogden deal were not released.

Calkins Media sold its three television stations in April.

Stanley Willis Calkins launched the family business when he bought a controlling interest in the Daily New Standard (now the Uniontown Herald-Standard) in 1937.

Charles Smith, a family member and a director of Calkins Media, says the family made the decision to sell together.

“I think our family has done a really good job of integrating the younger generation into decision making and exposing them to the business,” Smith says. He says that three generations of the family were involved in the business and the decision to sell.

In late April, the Randall family, which had owned the Frederick (Md.) News-Post since 1883, agreed to sell the paper to Ogden Newspapers. Is the era of private family media companies coming to close?

 “I never want to say it’s the end of an era,” Smith says. “It’s a combination of economic change and generational change that makes holding on to any business in a slowing market difficult.

“There are probably good opportunities for family-owned media companies to survive,” Smith says. He says companies in markets with less competition that migrated to digital platforms early on stand the best chance of survival.

Smith notes that Calkins had a pension program to fund in addition to other business costs.

Calkins retains other real estate holdings, mostly in the communities where its newspapers were based, Smith says. The family hasn’t decided what the company’s next act will be, but he says they will make that decision together as well, and will make serving their communities a priority.

Selling the newspapers was an “extremely difficult decision,” Smith says. “We still have ties to those communities and can contribute to them in a meaningful way. We’re looking at the best way to do that.”

GateHouse owned 130 daily newspapers, more than 600 community publications and over 555 local market websites prior to the Calkins acquisitions, according to company’s website.

Ogden Newspapers has more than 40 daily newspapers, along with a number of weeklies and a magazine division, according to its website. Pittsburgh Pirates and Seven Springs Resort owner Robert Nutting is Ogden’s CEO.