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New Media Investment Group has bought Harris family’s newspaper group

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New Media Investment Group Inc. is acquiring the six newspapers and most other assets of Harris Enterprises Inc., a company the Harris family has owned since 1907.
New Media said the six papers will be operated by the Western division of its GateHouse Media.

Included in the sale are the 27,000-circulation Hutchinson (Kan.) News, the 25,500-circulation Salina (Kan.) Journal, the 15,500-circulation Burlington (Iowa) Hawk Eye, the 8,000-circulation Hays (Kan.) Daily News, the 7,000-circulation Garden City (Kan.) Telegram and the 4,000-circulation Ottawa (Kan.) Herald.

Dirks, Van Essen & Murray, a merger and acquisition firm based in Santa Fe, New Mexico, represented Harris Enterprises in the sale. Terms of the transaction, which was expected to close Nov. 30, were not disclosed.

“We are excited to welcome the family of publications owned by Harris Enterprises to GateHouse Media,” Jason Taylor, Western division president, said. “We see the culture of these markets as a natural fit with our shared vision for quality local journalism and service to community. We anticipate great synergies with our existing operations in Kansas and Iowa.”

GateHouse already operates newspapers and associated websites in several Kansas markets, including Dodge City, McPherson, Newton and Pittsburg. In Iowa, it publishes the Ames Tribune.
Harris family involvement in the newspaper business started when Ralph Harris purchased the Ottawa Herald in 1907.

“The families agreed earlier this year that the changes in the media landscape necessitated getting much bigger or turning over these newspapers to a larger owner,” Harris President Bruce Buchanan said. “GateHouse has a broad footprint and can compete on a national level while retaining a commitment to doing what newspapers do best, which is serving local communities.”

All existing employees except Buchanan and Harris chief financial officer Sarah Liebl will be offered the opportunity to continue with GateHouse, New Media said. Buchanan and Liebl will remain with Harris as the company winds down.

“Many companies in this industry trim the staffs substantially with a sale, so we are pleased that GateHouse is keeping almost everyone,” Buchanan said. “Our stockholders only reluctantly decided to sell, but this will help our communities understand the commitment the buyer has to continuing the family legacy.”

Ralph Harris and his two sons, John P. and Sidney, extended their newspaper ownership with the purchase of the Chanute Tribune in 1927. In 1933, John and Sid added the Hutchinson News. The Hawk Eye was purchased in 1941 and the Salina Journal in 1949. Harris bought and sold other newspapers and radio stations over the decades.

Descendants of John P. and Sidney Harris remain as the primary stockholders, along with four other minority owners. An employee stock ownership plan was bought out by Harris in early November.