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Morris Publishing sells Savannah Morning News to GateHouse Media

AUGUSTA – As part of a strategic restructuring to focus its business on lifestyle publications, property development and new business, Morris Communications Co. announced today that it has signed an agreement to sell the assets of Morris Publishing Group, including the Savannah Morning News, to GateHouse Media.

The sale includes 10 other daily newspapers, numerous non-daily publications and associated websites and digital assets. The transaction is expected to close on Oct. 2, 2017. Terms were not disclosed.

The Savannah Morning News is a diversified media company serving readers and advertisers in the Coastal Empire of Georgia and the Lowcountry of South Carolina. Its current portfolio includes newspapers, magazines, specialty publications, digital solutions, events, ticketing and printing for others. The storied newspaper was founded in 1850 as the “Daily Morning News” and has been part of the Savannah community fabric for 167 years. Morris Communications has owned the newspaper and associated media since 1960.

“With the announcement of a transition in ownership of the Savannah Morning News from the Morris family to Gatehouse Media, our mission to provide credible, accurate and timely local information remains the same,” said Michael Traynor, publisher of the Savannah Morning News. “In the more than 57 years since the Morris family purchased the Savannah newspaper, we have evolved into a diversified, multi-platform media company that includes print, digital, events and ticketing solutions. We are excited about the next chapter in our future with GateHouse Media and look forward to the many available opportunities to serve our readers and advertisers in new and compelling ways.”

“Since my father took a job as bookkeeper at The Chronicle in 1929, our family has been dedicated to journalism, and to the readers and advertisers in the communities we serve,” said William S. “Billy” Morris III, chairman of Morris Communications. “Although this has been a difficult decision for me, we have found a wonderful buyer for the newspapers in GateHouse, as they are strongly committed to providing good community coverage for readers and effective solutions for advertisers.”

Under terms of the sale, Michael Traynor will remain as publisher of the Savannah Morning News. Billy Morris will continue as publisher of The Augusta Chronicle and will oversee editorial-page policy for the three Morris newspapers in Georgia – The Chronicle, the Savannah Morning News and the Athens Banner-Herald. The Morris family will retain ownership of the Savannah Morning News building and property on Chatham Parkway where the Savannah Morning News will remain in what is now a multi-tenant facility.

“GateHouse is very excited to welcome the Morris publications and their employees into our company,” said Michael E. Reed, New Media president and CEO. “For more than 80 years, the Morris family has built and operated an incredible collection of local media assets. We are honored that the family has chosen us to uphold the rich tradition of journalism and innovation they have established. This transaction will expand our footprint into new states and add some very attractive markets to our local media portfolio. We see strong synergies between our two companies and look forward to the value creation opportunity that will exist as we combine the portfolios.”

GateHouse Media is a division of New Media Investment Group, a publicly traded company (NEWM) on the New York Stock Exchange. It is one of the largest newspaper companies in the country, owning more than 130 daily newspapers and more than 500 non-daily publications across the United States.

“Every newspaper company in America is battling trends and redirected advertising dollars, so it is necessary for newspapers to be part of a large newspaper group to build and maintain the necessary resources to compete,” said Morris. “We are deeply grateful for the many friendships and business relationships we have enjoyed for these many years and look forward to the impact the next generation will make.”

William S. (Will) Morris IV, president and CEO of Morris Communications, said, “Although the decision to leave the newspaper business was a tough one for our family, we are enthusiastic about our plans to diversify our business holdings with print and digital communications and real estate development. We have a solid team in place to take the business in a prosperous new direction.”

Daily papers included in the sale, in addition to the Savannah Morning News, are The Augusta Chronicle, the Athens Banner-Herald, The Florida Times-Union and The St. Augustine Record in Florida, the Amarillo Globe-News and Lubbock Avalanche-Journal in Texas, The Topeka (Kan.) Capital-Journal, Conway (Ark.) Log Cabin Democrat, and the Juneau Empire and Kenai Peninsula Clarion in Alaska.

Non-daily publications included in the sale under the Savannah Morning News portfolio include Bluffton (S.C.) Today, the Jasper County (S.C.) Sun Times, La Voz Latina, the Tell-N-Sell Shopper, BiS (Business in Savannah), Effingham (Ga.) Now, Bryan County (Ga.) Now and Beaufort (S.C.) Today.

The Morris family will retain ownership of the publications associated with Savannah magazine and the commercial printing operation housed in the Savannah Morning News building.

Derek May, currently president of Morris Publishing Group, will take a new leadership role as chief operating officer of Morris Communications.

“I’ve considered it a blessing to be around such talented individuals who work for our company,” said May. “These are great people, passionate about what they do, and committed to their communities.”

“We are enthusiastic about our current and future business ventures,” Will Morris said. “With this sale, we will pursue a range of new possibilities. We intend to keep making a difference in the world, as we have for more than 80 years.”

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