GateHouse Media to acquire Austin American-Statesman

The Austin American-Statesman is being sold to New York-based publishing company GateHouse Media, executives said Tuesday, ending more than 40 years of ownership by Atlanta-based Cox Enterprises.


The purchase price is $47.5 million.

The sale – which is expected to close early in the second quarter — also includes the Statesman’s Spanish-language weekly newspaper Ahora Si, and the Austin Community Newspapers group, which includes the Bastrop Advertiser, Lake Travis View, Pflugerville Pflag, Round Rock Leader, Smithville Times and the Westlake Picayune.

GateHouse publishes 130 daily newspapers, hundreds of community publications and more than 540 local market websites that reach more than 21 million people each week, according to the company. Based in upstate New York, the company is part of publicly traded New Media Investment Group.

“New Media is very excited to add the Austin American-Statesman and its associated publications to our portfolio of local media assets,” Michael E. Reed, New Media president and CEO, said in a written statement. “In addition to being known for its strong and trusted journalism and having high digital engagement, the city of Austin is a very attractive market for our growing business offerings… We look forward to working with Austin employees to further build upon their partnerships and carry on the strong local journalism they do in Austin.”

Cox Enterprises put the American-Statesman on the market Oct. 31, saying it expected to close a sale in six to 12 months. The sale does not include the nearly 19 acres on Lady Bird Lake that is home to the Statesman’s offices. The land at 305 S. Congress Ave. is now owned by members of the Cox family and the subject of ongoing redevelopment plans.

As newspapers across the country have closed or downsized in the new digital age, GateHouse has continued to make acquisitions.

Texas is an important market for GateHouse, Taylor said. The company owns two dozen publications in Texas, including the Amarillo Globe-News and the Lubbock Avalanche-Journal.

“We are excited about the acquisition,” said Regional Publisher of the Globe-News and Avalanche-Journal Robert Granfeldt. “This will give us access to high quality state and political news that our readers find relevant.”

Jason Taylor, president of the western U.S. publishing operations for GateHouse, said in an interview that the company has no specific plans for the American-Statesman yet. He said GateHouse executives will be talking to the local leadership team to discuss how the Statesman and GateHouse can be of benefit to each other.

“Austin is such a dynamic market,” Taylor said. “Most media companies would covet it. The leadership role it takes in the state is impressive and impactful, and we want to be part of that.”

Taylor said GateHouse plans to continue the Statesman on its path of doing important, community-oriented journalism.

“GateHouse is committed to the rich legacy of quality journalism that the Statesman has contributed to both Austin and the state of Texas,” Taylor said. “I can promise you now our mission is to sustain local journalism.”

Taylor said GateHouse, as one of the largest media owners, is unfairly criticized when it makes cuts at its properties. He said GateHouse’s reductions are in line with industry standards.

“Our job is to get them fixed and stabilized,” Taylor said.

The Statesman, with a daily circulation of 85,000 and digital subscriptions of 16,786, will be one of Gatehouse’s largest newspapers. The Statesman has been named Texas Newspaper of the Year three of the past four years by the Texas Associated Press Managing Editors.

GateHouse already has a presence in Austin, where it operates its Center for News & Design. The center has more than 240 employees who perform design and editing work for GateHouse newspapers and other publications.

Taylor said GateHouse views Austin as an up-and-coming “innovation lab,” with its existing news and design hub being “the logical incubator.”

When it comes to news coverage, Taylor said, GateHouse takes a hands-off approach, leaving news decisions to local newsroom leaders.

“Unequivocally, GateHouse does not weigh in on content decisions,” Taylor said. “You know the market. You are the experts. We never tell a newsroom what to cover, or how,” although he added the company will advise management “on ways to enhance it.”