CHAMPAIGN — At an all-staff meeting today, News-Gazette Media CEO John Reed announced to employees that an agreement has been signed to sell substantially all of its assets to the family-owned Champaign Multimedia Group LLC, an affiliate company of Community Media Group. The sale is expected to close in early November.
CMG, headquartered in downstate West Frankfort, owns and operates community newspapers with websites in several Midwestern states, including Illinois, Indiana and Iowa, as well as newspapers in Michigan, Pennsylvania and New York.
The acquisition of News-Gazette Media will include three radio stations: WDWS, WHMS and WKIO, serving the Champaign-Urbana, Danville and East Central Illinois areas, Reed said. The acquisition will also include weekly newspapers, free-distribution shoppers and websites serving Mahomet, Rantoul, Ford County, Piatt County and Vermilion County.
“We are pleased to announce that our search for the new owners for our properties has led us to a family-owned company, located right here in Illinois,” Reed said. “Community Media Group shares our values and represents everything we had hoped to find in the next steward of our newspapers and radio stations. They have a strong commitment to quality products, and they share our vision of a multimedia future where print, radio and digital media outlets continue to complement one another.”
Larry J. Perrotto, chairman of CMG since the company’s inception in 1996, has been involved in all phases of the industry for more than 40 years, with his newspapers winning excellence awards in every category, including Newspaper of the Year and Newspaper of Distinction.
“In the past 10 years,” he said, “over 1,800 newspapers across the country have been closed due to economic conditions. During that time, CMG has expanded operations, in many cases saving newspapers on the brink of closure. We have a commitment to excellence that large, investor-owned media organizations do not.”
News-Gazette Media was originally founded by David W. Stevick in 1919. It has been honored each of the last five years with the Mabel S. Shaw Memorial Trophy, given to the top newspaper in its circulation division by the Illinois Press Association, and has also earned national recognition during that time from Editor & Publisher, the Inland Press Association and the Associated Press Sports Editors.
“The ultimate decision to seek a buyer was extremely difficult on many levels,” Reed said. “In the end, I have absolute confidence in our selection of Community Media Group and am convinced that both the decision to sell and the selected buyer represent the best possible outcome for our employees, readers and listeners.”
CMG President and Chief Executive Officer Mark J. Perrotto, before joining Community Media Group Management Services, owned and operated daily and weekly newspapers in Iowa, Illinois and Indiana. From the company’s inception until 1992, he was a member of the senior management group at American Publishing’s Ohio, Indiana and Illinois newspaper operations. Perrotto also served as director of American Offset, a national network of commercial printing plants.
“Our goal,” he said, “is to continue to bring the top-quality products the readers have come to expect. The excellent coverage of University of Illinois sports, the award-winning news, the commitment to quality features, all will continue.”
Larry Perrotto’s involvement in the industry spans more than 40 years, first as a principal in a privately held group of 33 daily and weekly newspapers and from 1987 to 1996 as president and chief executive officer of American Publishing Company and also as president and chief executive officer of the Chicago Sun-Times Co. from 1994 to 1996.
During this period, American Publishing grew to become one of the major publishing entities in the U.S. The company expanded, under Larry Perrotto’s direction, in less than a decade from the original group of 33 publications to 486, including the Sun-Times and the Jerusalem Post in Israel. American Publishing became a public company in 1994.
Stressing the importance of close relationships between a newspaper and its community, Larry Perrotto said, “We built APC into a huge global media company, but after all that success, we realized our heart and soul was in operating community newspapers and CMG was formed. Champaign-Urbana fits perfectly into our family of community newspapers.
“We pledge to be strong advocates for the interests of he Champaign-Urbana region. We look forward to actively participating and working for the continued growth of this vibrant community.”
Bill Hawkins, chairman of News-Gazette Media’s board of directors, said, “In this difficult environment for independent newspaper owners, we are pleased to have found a buyer with strong Midwestern roots that will continue the tradition of community journalism that has served this community so well. With continued joint ownership of both The News-Gazette and DWS radio, Community Media Group will be the dominant media outlet for the greater Champaign-Urbana market for years to come.”
As part of the sale process, News-Gazette Media has filed voluntary petitions for relief under Chapter 11 of the U.S. bankruptcy code. Additionally, and in accordance with the state and federal regulations under the Worker Adjustment and Retraining Notice Act, employees were provided with formal notice of a potential layoff planned to occur in the 14-day period beginning Oct. 31.
However, CMG has indicated that it is developing plans for the rehire of numerous News-Gazette Media employees following the sale to Champaign Multimedia Group.
Reed added, “It is most certainly regrettable that some employees won’t be rehired during the transition. Our economic circumstances — which are not unique to this operation — require that we operate more efficiently. Absent this sale transaction, we would be making similar decisions.”
Said John Hecker, president of the Marajen Stevick Foundation, owner of News-Gazette Media: “Our unique model of local, not-for-profit ownership was ideal when it was formed over a decade ago. The economic realities of today’s operating environment, unfortunately, have made it impossible for us to continue as an independent owner. We are extremely happy to have identified a buyer that shares our core values and commitment to quality products.”
CMG, principally owned by the Larry J. Perrotto and John H. Satterwhite families, is based in Illinois. The company’s roots go back to the first half of the last century, when Satterwhite’s father, Henry, became the publisher of Pennsylvania’s Bradford Era. John succeeded his father and is the Era’s current publisher.
CMG also operates a health and wellness publications and services division based in Chicago.