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Two Southland Newspapers Face Ownership Changes

June 21, 1997|DEBORA VRANA | TIMES STAFF WRITER

Two Southern California daily newspapers, the Long Beach Press-Telegram and the Riverside Press-Enterprise, will undergo ownership changes, their corporate parents announced Friday.

Miami-based Knight-Ridder Inc., which publishes the Miami Herald as well as 30 other U.S. newspapers, said it is putting the Press-Telegram up for sale to help pay for its proposed $1.65-billion purchase of four newspapers from Walt Disney Co.

The Press-Enterprise Co. said it agreed to sell a controlling interest in the family-owned Riverside newspaper to Dallas-based A.H. Belo Corp., owner of the Dallas Morning News and other media holdings. Terms were not disclosed.

The developments come amid ownership changes, or possible sales, of other Southern California newspapers or chains. Speculation has increased that the Los Angeles Daily News in Woodland Hills could be put up for sale since the death of its former owner, Jack Kent Cooke, earlier this year. Last fall, Toronto-based Thomson Corp. sold the San Gabriel Valley Tribune, Pasadena Star-News and Whittier Daily News to Denver media executive Dean Singleton and his MediaNews Group.

As part of its proposed sale of the Long Beach paper, Knight-Ridder said it is also selling papers in Gary, Ind.; Boca Raton, Fla.; Milledgeville, Ga.; and Newberry, S.C.

"That package of newspapers isn't very profitable and isn't likely to be," said Edward Atorino, an analyst at Wasserstein, Perella Securities in New York. "Knight-Ridder is trying to streamline and focus on products that make a lot of money."

"It's very logical they would sell some of their other papers," said Robert Ray, an analyst at Moody's Investors Service in New York. Rick Sadowski, publisher since 1982 of the Press-Telegram (circulation of 109,143 daily and 128,106 Sunday), said he was not surprised about the announcement, which, he said, made sense from a corporate standpoint. But he called the pending sale "unsettling."

Knight-Ridder stock was down 50 cents a share on Friday to close at $46.75 a share.

In Riverside, Press-Enterprise Co. Chairman Howard H. (Tim) Hays cited family considerations for the decision to sell the Press-Enterprise (circulation of 162,235 daily and 169,565 Sunday).

"We couldn't be putting our newspaper in better hands," said Hays, 80. He cited "the age of my generation" as important in the decision to sell.

A.H. Belo had previously acquired a 38% stake in the Press-Enterprise in June 1996 but will now take a controlling interest under the new agreement.

The Hays family will ultimately sell all their shares to Belo under the deal announced Friday.

The agreement marks the end of family ownership at the Press-Enterprise, long one of California's largest family-owned daily papers. The sale is part of a nationwide trend toward corporate ownership of newspapers.

"This is the end of an era," said Marcia Mcquern, chief executive of the Press-Enterprise Co. and editor of the paper. "No one feels like celebrating. There's been lots of tears and hugs."

* PAPER PRACTICES

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