NYT agreement to sell Journal, PD, Argus-Courier announced

SONOMA COUNTY — The New York Times Company today announced an agreement to sell the North Bay Business Journal, Press Democrat and 14 other newspapers in its Regional Media Group to Florida-based Halifax Media Holdings LLC for $143 million in cash.

The sale, which was reported last week to be in the final stages of negotiation, is expected to close sometime in January. In a release, the New York Times Company said that the sale will result in an after-tax gain in the first quarter of 2012 and estimated after-tax proceeds of $150 million.

Also part of the Regional Media Group in Sonoma County is the Petaluma Argus-Courier.

The purchase significantly expands Halifax Media’s footprint. The company, founded in 2010, currently owns one newspaper: the Daytona Beach News-Journal in Florida.

In an email to employees, Regional Media Group Chief Operating Officer Michael Golden said that Halifax Media initiated the sale and that the 16 newspapers were sold as a unit.

“These news organizations have served as trusted institutions in their communities, delivering news and information that matter most to their readers,” said Arthur Sulzberger Jr., chairman of The New York Times Company, in a release. “The sale of our Regional Media Group will enable the New York Times Company to continue our transformation to a digitally focused, multiplatform media company.”

The New York Times Company listed several major accolades acquired within the Regional Media Group under its ownership, including the 1997 Pulitzer Prize in spot news photography awarded to the Press Democrat. Two other papers, both in Florida, obtained the prize while part of the group: a 1971 editorial Prize to The Gainesville Sun in 1971 and a 2011 investigative reporting Prize to the Sarasota Herald-Tribune.

A major financial backer for Halifax Media is The Stephens Group of Little Rock, Ark. One of its investments is the Las Vegas-based Stephens Media Group, which owns more than 50 daily newspapers, including the Las Vegas Review-Journal, and other publications, including a business journal, the Las Vegas Business Press.

Halifax Media intends to offer employment to the “vast majority of employees,” according to documents distributed to employees of the Regional Media Group.

News of the negotiations leaked on the Halifax Media Holdings web site early last week after the temporary publishing of a page prematurely indicating the ownership of the publications involved in the Regional Media Group. The page has since been taken down, but not before a screen shot of the page began circulating online and appeared on the site of popular media blogger Jim Romenesko.

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