GateHouse Media is set to acquire the six newspapers and most other assets of Harris Enterprises Inc., owner of The Ottawa Herald, the two companies announced Monday.
The new owner plans to take over Dec. 1.
John Montgomery, former editor and publisher of The Herald, has been named senior group publisher to oversee GateHouse operations in Kansas. Montgomery has been editor and publisher of The Hutchinson News the past 10 years.
“I’m excited because GateHouse will provide the opportunity to take advantage of more tools and resources so we, in turn, can serve our communities better, and the opportunity to combine our respective talent and expertise to the mutual benefit of the combined Kansas group,” Montgomery said. “Moreover, when I look around at the newspaper companies that are trying to figure out a dynamically changing media world, GateHouse is one of those successfully transitioning to a modern multimedia information and marketing company.”
Tommy Felts remains editor and publisher of The Herald, and staffing changes in Ottawa are not expected with the Dec. 1 ownership move, the companies said.
“We’re impressed with what we’ve seen from GateHouse’s forward-looking operation,” Felts said Monday. “The company’s vision and demand for quality community journalism should be a great fit for The Herald.”
Gatehouse owned 14 news operations in Kansas before the purchase of the Harris newspapers, including those in Dodge City, McPherson, Newton and Pittsburg.
“We anticipate great synergies with our existing operations in Kansas and Iowa,” Jason Taylor, Western division president, said.
“We see the culture of these markets as a natural fit with our shared vision for quality local journalism and service to community.” Taylor said.
Taylor and Montgomery made the announcement to employees at The Hutchinson News Monday morning, while other GateHouse executives and publishers made similar announcements to staffs in Ottawa, Salina, Hays, Garden City, and Burlington, Iowa.
“Your newspapers and websites represent some of the finest journalism being produced in Kansas and Iowa today, and we are impressed with the many journalism awards the Harris newspapers have won,” Kirk Davis, CEO of GateHouse wrote in a letter to Harris employees. “Your work has a direct, positive impact on your local communities and we look forward to continuing this tradition.”
GateHouse has newspapers in 36 states, covering more than 520 markets. It also operates Propel Marketing, a digital marketing services platform, which provides solutions for small and mid-size business customers.
GateHouse is owned by New Media Investment Group Inc., a public company listed on the New York Stock Exchange.
The Harris family’s involvement in the newspaper business started when Ralph Harris purchased The Ottawa Herald in 1907. Ownership now includes the third and fourth generations of the family.
“The families agreed earlier this year that the changes in the media landscape necessitated getting much bigger or turning over these newspapers to a larger owner,” Bruce Buchanan, president of Harris Enterprises, said. “GateHouse has a broad footprint and can compete on a national level while retaining a commitment to doing what newspapers do best, which is serving local communities.”
All existing employees except Buchanan and Harris chief financial officer Sarah Liebl will be offered the opportunity to continue with GateHouse. Buchanan and Liebl will remain with Harris as the company winds down.
“Many companies in this industry trim the staffs substantially with a sale, so we are pleased that GateHouse is keeping almost everyone,” Buchanan said. “Our stockholders only reluctantly decided to sell, but this will help our communities understand the commitment the buyer has to continuing the family legacy.”
Ralph Harris and his two sons, John P. and Sidney, extended their newspaper company from its Ottawa foundations with the purchase of the Chanute Tribune in 1927. In 1933, John and Sid added The Hutchinson News.
The Burlington (Iowa) Hawk Eye was purchased in 1941 and the Salina Journal in 1949. The Garden City Telegram joined the group in 1953, the Olathe Daily News in 1959, the Hays Daily News in 1970 and the Parsons Sun in 1982.
Olathe was sold in 1998, and Chanute and Parsons were sold in 2008. Several other newspapers and many radio stations have been bought and sold over the years.
Descendants of John P. and Sidney Harris remain as the primary stockholders, along with four other minority owners. An employee stock ownership plan was bought out by Harris earlier this month.