The Daily Record and The Wilson Times, North Carolina’s last two family-owned daily newspapers, have forged a strategic partnership and formed a media management company, allowing them to share resources and expertise while remaining independently owned and operated.
Bart and Brent Adams and Maere Kay Lashmit, who own The Daily Record, and Morgan Dickerman, who owns The Wilson Times, have joined forces to create Restoration Newsmedia. The limited-liability company was incorporated and registered with the N.C. Department of the Secretary of State on April 30.
Dickerman and Bart Adams are co-chairmen of the new company. Debbie Boykin, chief financial officer of The Wilson Times, will also serve as Restoration Newsmedia’s CFO.
The Daily Record also publishes the twice-weekly Courier-Times in Roxboro and the weekly Mount Olive Tribune, while The Wilson Times publishes four weekly papers: The Enterprise in Spring Hope, the Johnstonian News in Kenly, The Wake Weekly in Wake Forest and The Butner-Creedmoor News in Creedmoor.
All eight newspapers are now managed together under the Restoration Newsmedia banner. The company has a combined total of 70 employees.
“As news industry veterans, Morgan and Bart saw the trend of consolidation sweeping the media landscape and found a way to leverage the efficiencies of large newspaper chains without sacrificing local ownership or selling off their families’ legacies,” said Keven Zepezauer, president of Restoration Newsmedia and group publisher of its eight titles. “We believe our model can help save community newspapers and restore sustainable local coverage to cities and towns that may otherwise be in danger of becoming news deserts.”
Restoration maintains a pagination hub in Wilson led by media services manager Allison Pridgen where all of its newspaper pages are designed and an advertising design hub in Dunn.
“It’s difficult and expensive for weekly and small daily newspapers to maintain their own staffs for pagination and creative services, which is why large media chains have created centralized hubs,” Zepezauer said. “By adapting that model for a collective of family-owned papers, we can reduce our operating expenses and let each paper focus on its core functions — covering the news and helping local businesses grow their customer base through advertising.”
As part of the new regional strategy, The Daily Record has closed its printing facility, Sunbelt Press, and its newspapers are now printed at the News & Observer’s commercial printing plant in Garner, which handles print contracts for Restoration Newsmedia. The Wilson Times shuttered its press and outsourced printing in 2015.
Zepezauer said the rising cost of newsprint — including U.S. tariffs imposed on Canadian paper imports — makes it difficult for small independent printers to remain profitable.
“Large companies can purchase newsprint and ink at discounted bulk rates and commercial print hubs have competitive advantages we can’t match,” he explained. “By partnering with the News & Observer, we’ve been able to reduce our printing costs and strengthen our bottom line, allowing us to focus on the content and information that matters most to our readers and advertisers.”
Restoration was formed in part to buck a national trend of increasing expenses and declining revenue in the newspaper business. Between 2004 and 2018, nearly 1,800 U.S. newspapers closed their doors. Roughly 1,700 were weekly papers, according to “The Expanding News Desert,” a report by Penelope Muse Abernathy, the Knight chair in journalism and digital media economics at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.
Some surviving publications are what Abernathy terms “ghost newspapers,” those whose newsgathering operations have been gutted or merged with those of regional metro papers and are no longer equipped to perform public service journalism.
“We believe our mission is vital to democracy, and we maintain local reporting staffs at all of our publications to provide responsible coverage in the communities they serve,” Zepezauer said. “We’re not a hedge fund or investment group that buys local papers to extract profit at the expense of the product. We’re career newspaper people who want to help save the business we love.”
The Daily Record and The Wilson Times acquired all of their non-daily publications from family owners who wished to retire or who faced financial difficulties. Zepezauer said the new management company streamlines production costs and puts each paper on a path to profitability.
Restoration Newsmedia offers page design and ad design to other publications as contracted services. For retiring family owners without a successor or for newspapers in distress, Restoration considers acquisitions on a case-by-case basis but does not bid on newspapers for sale or purchase them through brokers.
Restoration also operates Kingsdale Media, a digital marketing agency that places programmatic advertising on national websites, smartphone apps and video and music-streaming services and can target audiences by both geographic location and subject matter interest.
Kingsdale works in all eight Restoration Newsmedia markets and can amplify advertisers’ reach by coordinating print and digital campaigns that readers see not only in their local newspaper and on its website, but on various sites they visit and apps they use each day. For more information, visit www.kingsdalemedia.com.
In addition, Restoration operates the regional car-shopping website NCWheels.com and event ticketing website WAWTix.com. Through The Wilson Times, Restoration holds a partial ownership stake in electronic advertising company Mobile Billboards and the Wilson County Phone Directory.