Copley Press sells nine newspapers in Illinois and Ohio

Are they now losing money?

On April 11 of this year, Copley Press, parent of the Union-Tribune, sold nine newspapers in Illinois and Ohio for $382.5 million. Now we know: those papers were losing money. The buyer was GateHouse Media of upstate New York. It is publicly held and makes regular filings with the Securities and Exchange Commission. Those reports reveal some things that privately held Copley was keeping secret.

Jettisoned were dailies in Springfield, Peoria, Galesburg, and Lincoln, Illinois; and Canton, Massillon, and New Philadelphia, Ohio; plus two weeklies. Reports filed by GateHouse show that the papers in 2004 sported net income of $7.5 million. That dropped to $5 million in 2005. Last year, the combined papers lost $1.24 million. In the first quarter of this year, those papers lost $1.65 million.

Total assets of the Ohio and Illinois papers dropped from $462 million in 2005 to $448.4 million last year.

The Ohio and Illinois papers were generating annual gross revenue of $159 million. Before the sale, Copley Press would state publicly that its total gross revenues were $550 million. Now, after the sale, they would be around $390 million, because the U-T is about all that's left. Generally, small- to medium-sized newspapers are doing much better than metropolitan dailies. When Copley announced it was dumping the Ohio and Illinois papers, some said it would be better off selling the U-T and keeping the others. So is Copley Press now losing money? The company admits profits are down sharply. With circulation and advertising revenue sinking, it's possible the company is now seeing red ink, but not likely. Yet.

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