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Gazette Communications buys three southeast Iowa newspapers

Fairfield, Mount Pleasant, Washington papers to maintain local name, stories

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Gazette Communications is getting a little bigger.

The Cedar Rapids media company, which runs The Gazette, the 133-year-old locally owned newspaper, on Thursday announced it has purchased three southeast Iowa newspapers — in Fairfield, Washington and Mount Pleasant.

The Fairfield Ledger, Mount Pleasant News and Washington Evening Journal — each more than 130 years old — publish Monday through Friday and have free weekly publications. The three papers, all in communities that are county seats, have a combined circulation of about 5,600.

“Each of these newspapers are respected leaders in their communities,” said Jim Burke, publisher of The Gazette. “They hit all the boxes.”

Burke said the company saw an opportunity to expand its footprint as well as improve the journalism carried in all three newspapers as well as The Gazette by sharing stories.

The three papers will maintain their names, Burke added, as well as local content.

But the sale also means residents in those communities will see improvements, he said. Color Web Printers, owned by Gazette Communications, has the ability to print color photos, for example. In addition, the papers now will be able to publish statehouse coverage from Gazette reporters rather than the Associated Press.

“We’ll learn things to apply in Cedar Rapids as well,” Burke said.

With the acquisition, which closed at 12:01 a.m. Thursday, Gazette Communications brings on 39 employees, Burke said.

Color Web Printers in Cedar Rapids will take over printing of the newspapers beginning with their Thursday afternoon editions.

“It was our desire to seek a buyer who had the financial resources and commitment to quality, who would preserve through the challenging times ahead to see these publications serving the communities of Mount Pleasant, Washington and Fairfield remain strong, healthy and vibrant for decades into the future,” said Brian Murray, Inland Industries chairman, in a statement.

Inland Industries is the parent of Inland Media Co., which owned the three newspapers.

“The more we learn about The Gazette, the more we like their forward thinking and commitment to employees and communities they serve,” Murray continued. “We would like to see that philosophy hold strong within these communities for our employees and the people we have served throughout our many years of ownership.”

In 2012, The Gazette Company — which includes The Gazette, Color Web Printers, digital-marketing agency Fusionfarm and Vernon Research Group — bought out the Hladky family, which owned the paper for decades, and placed the company in a trust for the benefit of the employees. The company sold KCRG-TV9, the area’s ABC affiliate, to Atlanta-based Gray Television in September 2015 for $100 million.

Rick Edmonds, a media business analyst at the Poynter Institute, said larger metro newspapers across the country are acquiring smaller papers in surrounding communities and suburbs, pointing to the Houston Chronicle, which purchased two dozen community papers earlier in 2016.

“These very small publications do have the advantage that they’re covering news no one else is,” Edmonds said. “That is becoming truer and truer as newsrooms have fewer resources.”

l Comments: (319) 398-8331; chelsea.keenan@thegazette.com

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