Cox Media Given 60 More Days To Sell Ohio Newspapers

Jan 16, 2020

Cox Media Group says it has been granted a 60-day extension to continue publishing daily newspapers in Dayton, Hamilton, Middletown and Springfield while looking for a new buyer for the papers.

Apollo Global Management's Terrier Media agreed to pay $3.1-billion last February for Atlanta-based Cox Media Group, which includes WHIO-TV, Dayton's top-rated TV station; news radio WHIO-AM; country music WHKO-FM; classic hits WZLR-FM; the Dayton Daily News, Springfield News-Sun, the Journal-News in Hamilton and Middletown; and Dayton.com.

At the time, the government permitted "cross ownership" of television stations and daily newspapers in the same market. However, a Third Circuit Court of Appeals in October re-instated a 1975 Federal Communications Commission rule banning cross ownership. With the rule back in place, Terrier told the FCC in November it would reduce publishing to three days a week so they would no longer be daily newspapers.

The former Gov. James M. Cox media company has owned the Dayton Daily News and WHIO-AM for 85 years, since 1935 -- adding TV in 1949 -- and was "grandfathered in," or exempt from the rule. The new owners were not.

Cox revealed Thursday for the first time that it was under a deadline ending that day -- Jan. 16 -- "to reduce the newspapers publication from a daily print schedule to three says a week, in order to comply with a recent federal court decision." 

Cox said it expects to have a buyer for its three Ohio newspapers by March 16, "a move that will provide a long-term solution," said Rob Rohr, vice president for Cox's Dayton market.

Separating the 121-year-old Dayton Daily News from the WHIO TV/radio news operation won't be easy. Dayton print, broadcast and online journalists work in the same newsroom at 1611 Main St., near the University of Dayton, and share their reporting on the various platforms. The Journal-News has an office on Cincinnati-Dayton Road in Liberty Township near Lakota East High School; the News-Sun has an office at 137 E. Main St. in Springfield.

One possible suitor for the Cox papers would be Gannett, which was bought by GateHouse Media last year for $1.4 billon. GateHouse Media, since renamed Gannett, owns the Cincinnati Enquirer, Columbus Dispatch, Chillicothe Gazette, Coshocton Tribune, Lancaster Eagle-Gazette, Loudonville Times, Mansfield News-Journal, Marion Star, Newark Advocate, Port Clinton News Herald, Zanesville Times Recorder and 250 other newspapers. The Dayton, Springfield and Hamilton-Middletown papers already are printed at Gannett's Indianapolis Star.

In fact, Gannett announced the purchase of the Middletown and Hamilton papers in June 2000 from Thompson, a large newspaper chain based in Canada. But it turned out that Cox had an option to buy Thompson's papers, and the Butler County dailies were acquired by Cox that year.

Rohr hailed the 60-day extension as "fantastic news for our employees, our customers and the communities that our newspapers serve. This would not have been possible without the thousands of hours of hard work by Cox Media Group leadership with the full support of Apollo Global Management's team. It's thanks to them that the FCC enabled us to have more time to find a long-term solution for our newspapers."

In a Jan. 2 USA TODAY column, Dayton Mayor Nan Whaley and former FCC commissioner Michael Copps blasted the FCC for allowing Apollo "to skirt the rules" by cutting the newspapers' circulation to three days a week.

"The FCC is tasked with the responsibility of protecting the public interest when it comes to the media marketplace. This means promoting policies that advance localism, competition and diversity in broadcasting. But rather than uphold these principles, this FCC has placed the interest of a private equity firm ahead of everyday people."