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January 25, 2011 > MediaNews subsidiary buys Lehman Communications

MediaNews subsidiary buys Lehman Communications

By Catherine Tsai, Associated Press

DENVER (AP), Jan 21 - The publisher of the Boulder Camera has acquired the company that publishes the Longmont Times-Call, the Loveland Reporter-Herald and the Canon City Daily Record.

Prairie Mountain Publishing Co., a subsidiary of MediaNews Group Inc., acquired Lehman Communications Corp. for an undisclosed sum, MediaNews announced Friday. The deal was expected to close later this month.

Times-Call Editor Dean Lehman will keep his role and add the title of publisher, while his father, Ed Lehman, will become publisher emeritus, MediaNews Group Chairman and CEO Dean Singleton said.

No immediate changes are planned, he said.

The acquisition effectively will nearly double Prairie Mountain Publishing's annual revenue, Singleton said. He didn't disclose exact figures.

``It's a very strategic acquisition for our company, because of where it's located,'' Singleton said. ``Colorado is our headquarters. We're always happy to add newspapers anywhere, but especially so in Colorado.''

The combined daily circulation for the three Lehman dailies is about 42,000, MediaNews said.

Denver-based MediaNews owns The Denver Post, the San Jose Mercury News and more than 50 other newspapers.

Boulder-based Prairie Mountain Publishing publishes the Camera, The Colorado Daily, (Sterling) Journal-Advocate and The Fort Morgan Times, plus nine weeklies, all in Colorado. The Camera's daily circulation is about 27,000, said Prairie Mountain Publishing President and CEO Al Manzi.

Lehman Communications, established in 1957, also publishes four weeklies including the Colorado Hometown Weekly along with the daily newspapers in Longmont, Loveland and Canon City. It opened a roughly 60,000-square-foot production facility in May 2009.

The deal means Prairie Mountain will boost its work force from about 200 employees to 460, who will receive the same benefits, Manzi said. That means many Lehman employees will receive more benefits, such as dental coverage, Manzi said.

Historically, Lehman Communications has been profitable, though recent years have been difficult, Dean Lehman said. He didn't disclose financial details.

All newspapers were already competing with Internet companies and others for advertisers' dollars and for readers when the recession hit.

``In advertising, newspapers are mirrors of the economy to the extent of how things are going in all different sectors. When difficult times came, we felt that,'' Lehman said. Still, Lehman Communications saw some improvements last year in its business, which includes commercial printing, he said.

The move allows the newspapers to consolidate ad sales and offer advertisers more reach with one purchase, giving MediaNews more control of the Colorado market.

``MediaNews has always been a pioneer in clustering and getting papers close together and getting efficiencies from them,'' said Tim McGuire, of Arizona State University's Walter Cronkite School of Journalism and Mass Communications.

Manzi said there also are opportunities to share content, but local editors will make the editorial decisions.

``The question is, what do readers get out of it?'' industry analyst Ken Doctor said. ``Do they get any more coverage, or do they get less unique coverage because of the combination of content?''

MediaNews announced this week it is seeking a new CEO to replace Singleton so he can focus on exploring possible combinations with other publishers, but he would remain chairman.

Singleton, who also is chairman of The Associated Press, declined to comment on a Wall Street Journal report that MediaNews also is exploring a merger with Freedom Communications Inc., publisher of The Gazette in Colorado Springs and The Orange County Register in California.

The investment firm Alden Global Capital is part of a group of lenders with ownership stakes in both MediaNews and Freedom.

When asked how difficult it was for the family to sell, Dean Lehman responded: ``It was a hard decision because of the years the family had in the business, but on the other hand, it is a time of change in business and the newspaper industry. We're glad there was an opportunity for a Colorado-based company to purchase our company.''

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