HARRISONBURG — Byrd Newspapers, the family business that has had an ownership stake in the Daily News-Record since 1923, is selling its publications to The Ogden Newspapers Inc., a family-owned company based in Wheeling, W.Va., that owns more than 40 daily papers.
The deal was announced Tuesday by Thomas T. Byrd, Byrd Newspapers’ chairman and publisher, and Ogden CEO Robert N. Nutting. The sale price was not disclosed.
The Byrd family’s two daily newspapers and their associated websites — the DN-R, dnronline.com, The Winchester Star and winchesterstar.com — are part of the sale. Also included in the transaction are The Valley Banner, the Page News & Courier, The Shenandoah Valley-Herald, The Warren Sentinel and Skyline publications.
Nutting said Ogden pledged to the Byrd family that each employee will be offered a job when the deal closes, which is scheduled for March 31.The transaction does not include real estate affiliated with the newspapers, but Nutting said Tuesday afternoon that Ogden plans to lease the buildings from the Byrds.
“My family is extremely proud to become the successor publisher of the Byrd Newspapers,” Nutting said in a statement. “We look forward to carrying on the long tradition of the Byrd family, publishing great community newspapers serving Winchester, Harrisonburg and the surrounding region.”
Cameron Nutting Williams, a member of the Ogden family’s fifth generation, will serve as regional publisher, participating in the management of the acquired newspapers and other Ogden properties in the region, including The Northern Virginia Daily of Strasburg, The Journal in Martinsburg, W.Va., and the Frederick (Md.) News-Post.
Byrd expressed gratitude that Shenandoah Valley readers turned to his family’s papers for news. Five generations of Byrds have been involved in managing the papers.
“The support that we’ve been given from subscribers, advertisers and just friends of the community supporting the paper has been fantastic,” Byrd said of his family’s ownership of the papers, particularly the dailies. “Over the years, the contributions that the staff has made to the two newspapers and the longevity and service the employees have contributed to the company is priceless.”
Byrd Newspaper Legacy
The Byrd family entered the publishing business in the Shenandoah Valley in 1897 and has been associated with it ever since. In fact, patriarch Harry F. Byrd Sr. sold the Martinsburg paper, which he founded in 1907, to Ogden Newspapers in 1912.
The Daily News-Record traces its roots to 1899, though Byrd and some business partners didn’t buy it until 1923. He was publisher of the News-Record from 1923 to 1939.
His son, Harry F. Byrd Jr., succeeded him and was publisher for more than 60 years, retiring in 2001.
Thomas T. Byrd became publisher upon his father’s retirement. But he said industry changes, particularly the need to invest in new technology, made it increasingly difficult for a small family newspaper group to survive.
“I think the Ogden group has the resources and they have economies of scale that they will be able to implement to make it a more efficient operation than we have now because they’re in 40-plus newspapers,” he said Tuesday afternoon, shortly after he, his son, Thomas W. Byrd, and three members of the Nutting family addressed DN-R employees.
The decision to sell was made by Byrd Newspapers’ stockholders — Thomas T. Byrd, his brother, Harry F. Byrd III, and their sister, Beverley B. Byrd.
Thomas T. Byrd said they considered ways to cut expenses, including internal consolidation, but decided selling was the most viable approach.
“It’s a sad and disappointing day for me,” he said, “but a decision had to be made, and the three stockholders mutually agreed to sell the two daily newspapers and the four weeklies.”
Thomas W. Byrd will work for Ogden in some capacity, keeping the fifth generation involved in the industry.
“The work that your family has done for this community, for this newspaper and for the state of Virginia for more than a hundred years is a remarkable legacy,” Nutting told Thomas T. and Thomas W. Byrd during the employee meeting. “It’s one we intend to honor and respect.”
Community Voice Vital
Ogden Newspapers was founded by H.C. Ogden on Sept. 22, 1890, when he began publishing the Wheeling News. The company is aggressively seeking acquisition opportunities.
“We still believe very strongly in the power of printed newspapers and our family continues to be willing to invest in newspapers, and we are excited about the potential that the Byrd publications bring to our company,” Nutting said in the statement. “When you combine the print circulation and online readership, these newspapers reach more people in their respective markets than any other media outlet.”
Nutting, his daughter, Cameron Nutting Williams, and his brother, Bill Nutting, the company’s vice president, met with employees of all six newspapers Tuesday.
Ogden’s interest in the Byrd newspapers stems from the growth that Virginia and the Shenandoah Valley are experiencing, Nutting said in an interview.
“A daily newspaper can make a real difference and a real impact in communities this size,” he said. “It seems that it’s a market that can have an important, direct connection with their daily newspaper. We can cover news that matters to readers and advertisers in communities this size.”
Though Ogden will own three daily newspapers in Virginia communities only 75 miles apart, Nutting indicated that merging papers isn’t under consideration.
“It’s critically important to maintain the local flavor, local connection of those individual newspapers serving individual communities,” he said. “While we need to and will look for areas where we can be as efficient as possible, we will not sacrifice the local connection of the local newspaper to the local community and reader.”
Ogden also has many weekly newspapers across the country and a list of magazines based in Topeka, Kan., including Grit and Mother Earth News. The Nutting family owns Seven Springs Mountain Resort and Hidden Valley Ski Resort in Pennsylvania and is the majority owner of the Pittsburgh Pirates Major League Baseball franchise.
News of the sale of Harrisonburg’s daily newspaper led some community leaders to comment on its longevity and service.
“Obviously, the paper has been around for 120 years in one form or another, so it’s part of the community,” said Frank Tamberrino, president and CEO of the Harrisonburg-Rockingham Chamber of Commerce. “Part of most people’s daily routine is picking up the DN-R.”
Rockingham County Administrator Stephen King said government officials have found the newspaper a reliable communicator of news county residents need to know.
“We hope that our relationship with the DN-R will continue as it has been,” he said. “The county has been pleased with the reporters who have been assigned to cover county business, and we hope that relationship continues.”
The United Way of Harrisonburg and Rockingham County benefited from the newspaper’s coverage of its activities and from money raised in annual company fundraising drives.
“The Daily News-Record has been a longtime supporter of United Way and so many other wonderful organizations in our community,” said Laura Toni-Holsinger, the organization’s executive director. “We have always appreciated the value of local media and hope that local presence and investment continues in the transition.”
Andy Perrine, James Madison University’s associate vice president of communications and marketing, said editor Adolph Snyder of what was then the Harrisonburg Daily News helped lobby the General Assembly to bring the teacher’s college to Harrisonburg that’s become JMU. The links between the paper and university continue, as he said the Byrd-Mims Journalism Scholarship is one of JMU’s most competitive awards.
He expressed encouragement that the ownership change will benefit the community.
“It’s clear that Ogden is bullish on investing in smaller media markets,” he said. “And because the Byrd properties will now become part of a much larger media portfolio, the Daily News-Record will enjoy the added benefits of scale and mass.
“In a rapidly changing media environment, it’s important for our growing region to have a top news source on such solid footing.”