Who's that billionaire behind deal to buy 5 Florida newspapers from New York Times?
Wake up and good morning. So the mainstream media has reported that the New York Times company just sold its 16 regional newspapers to a Florida business called Halifax Media Holdings, the owner of the Daytona Beach-News Journal. Those papers include five in Florida, from the Sarasota Herald Tribune and Lakeland Ledger to the Ocala Star Banner, Gainesville Sun and the tiny Winter Haven News Chief.
Let's look a bit closer at the deal. The New York Times sold 16 newspapers countrywide for $143 million. On average, that's less than $10 million apiece -- a price called "incredibly low" by Ken Doctor, a media and publishing analyst at Outsell Inc., in (ironically) this New York Times media column. On the other hand, analysts seem to see rising (though modest) values in newspapers once again, so Halifax's timing of its purchase may prove it to be one of the savvier deals in publishing in some time.
What has gotten less attention is: Who are the new owners? From a Florida point of view, the New York Times wielded some central Florida influence by controlling newspapers in Sarasota, Lakeland, Ocala, Gainesville and Winter Haven. That's now being handed to Halifax.
The best known of the trio is Stephens Capital, a Little Rock, Ark., company controlled by billionaire Warren Stephens (see photo). Through an affiliate, Stephens controls a number of western U.S. newspapers, the largest being the Las Vegas Review-Journal, reports Michael Pollick in this Sarasota Herald Tribune story. Stephens controls a range of dozens of companies through his investment firm, including Viking Range (kitchen appliances), Staffmark (temporary staffing) and Stephens Production (natural gas).
-- Robert Trigaux, Business Columnist, St. Petersburg Times, soon to become the Tampa Bay Times