Cox Enterprises buys back Ohio newspapers; 7-day publication continues

Cox Enterprises Inc. has agreed to repurchase the Dayton Daily News, Springfield News-Sun and Journal-News from Apollo Global Management, the companies announced Monday.

That decision ensures the newspapers can continue seven-day a week publication, which was at risk after the Federal Communications Commission allowed Apollo to buy Cox’s TV stations only if it stopped publishing a daily newspaper in the Dayton market.

“This is the best possible outcome for the newspapers, and it means we will continue to publish a printed newspaper seven days a week, uninterrupted,” said Jana Collier, interim operations leader for the Ohio newspapers. “Our commitment to important local journalism has never waned, and we will continue to serve our communities going forward.”

Cox Enterprises was founded by James M. Cox, the former governor of Ohio who bought the Dayton Evening News in 1898 and renamed it the Dayton Daily News. Cox Enterprises owned the Dayton, Springfield and Butler County papers until December 2019. The current president and CEO of Cox Enterprises is Alex Taylor, great-grandson of Gov. Cox.

“We couldn’t be happier,” Taylor said Monday when asked about the sale. He said the Cox family has “a deep affinity for the Dayton Daily News and the superior news product it has produced for over a century,” as well as the Springfield News-Sun and Journal-News.

“Dayton, Ohio is a big part of the Cox DNA,” he said. “It’s where our family is from and where our company was founded,” said Taylor. “So it is with great excitement that we continue publishing these papers as we have for more than 100 years.”

Cox Enterprises is based in Atlanta but maintains deep ties locally. Before going to Atlanta in 2011, Taylor worked in Dayton and oversaw the integration of the local newspaper, television and radio stations. Since 2011, the Cox Foundation has donated more than $2.4 million to local causes, such as the downtown River Run Project and most recently tornado cleanup.

Local impact

The sale bucks a national trend toward media consolidation. Cox Enterprises once controlled a sprawling media empire, but today only owns the Atlanta Journal-Constitution. Much of the multi-billion dollar company’s business today is in cable and support for the automotive industry.

Sandy Schwartz, president of Cox Automotive, visited the Dayton newsroom Monday and said Cox Enterprises made every decision — from selling the newspapers to keep them converged with WHIO-TV to buying them back to avoid going to three days a week — based on what they thought was best for the local community.

“We will invest in the newspapers but we want to support the community,” he said. “Our hope is to own this paper for a long, long, long time and to transition it into the new world because we believe in journalism and we believe in what it does for communities.”

Schwartz said there are no plans to eliminate local jobs. Dayton Daily News staff will stay in Dayton at 1611 S. Main Street but will move to a different floor of the building. Springfield News-Sun and Journal-News staff will stay at their current locations.

After the deal closes in coming weeks, the newspapers will operate separately and be owned by Cox Enterprises. WHIO-TV and the Ohio radio stations will be owned by Apollo, which is using the name Cox Media Group for its broadcast business.

“These newspapers are important assets to the communities they serve, and we are thrilled to have found a partner with a long and successful history of promoting freedom of the press and preserving print journalism,” said Cox Media Group CEO Kim Guthrie. “(Cox Enterprises) is the best possible partner for this sale to not only ensure continued daily print publication for the newspapers, but to also keep so many talented people doing what they do best — providing daily news coverage in our Ohio communities.”

News of the sale was well-received by people who had expressed concern about the newspapers’ fate. Dayton Mayor Nan Whaley co-wrote an editorial in the USA Today in January expressing concern about Dayton losing a daily newspaper.

“Daytonians deserve in-depth local news coverage and I am so glad to see that the Dayton Daily News will continue to dig into important local stories every day,” Whaley said of the sale Monday. “Cox Enterprises has been a part of our community for many years, and going forward I hope they will work to find new, innovative ways to be responsive to Daytonians’ evolving need for thoughtful, comprehensive stories about everything going on in our community – good and bad.”

Ellis Jacobs is part of a local coalition of people who expressed concern about the Apollo deal’s impact on local journalism. He called the Cox Enterprises purchase “the best outcome that could have been hoped for under these circumstances.”

“I hope that Cox is in it for the long run because having a superb local newspaper is really important for the community,” he said.

Ownership rule forced sale 

In 2018, Cox Enterprises put most of its media outlets up for sale, including those in Ohio — WHIO-TV, the Dayton Daily News, the Springfield News-Sun and the Journal-News plus K99.1 FM, WHIO Radio and WZLR. Those Ohio businesses have operated as one entity for a decade and were long owned by Cox.

When Cox agreed to sell its media outlets to Apollo Global Management last year, FCC rules allowed one company to own TV stations and newspapers in the same market.

But in September 2019, the Third Circuit Court of Appeals ruled that the FCC’s rules were invalid, in effect prohibiting Apollo from owning WHIO-TV and the Dayton Daily News. In November, the FCC approved the Cox-Apollo sale, but it required Apollo to reduce the daily newspapers to three days or sell them.

David Sambur, co-lead partner of private equity at Apollo Global Management Inc., said “Apollo is committed to strengthening local media. When faced with the unfortunate requirements of an antiquated regulation, we would not accept an outcome that reduced local news coverage for the people of Dayton, Springfield and Butler County.”

Rob Rohr, who has served as publisher of the newspapers and market vice president of Cox Media Group Ohio, will stay with Cox Media Group and continue to lead WHIO-TV and the radio stations.

“I’m incredibly proud of the unique, multi-media business operation that our talented team built to serve our region over the last 10 years,” Rohr said. “As we look forward, we will carry the learnings and experiences we shared to support these businesses as they embark on separate but equally exciting and successful futures.

“We applaud the FCC for working with us and providing us the flexibility to find a stable, long-term buyer who is committed to providing the citizens of Ohio with award winning journalism.”

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