A 10,000-circulation Virginia newspaper owned by Warren Buffett's investment company will close at the end of the year as part of plan involving 105 job cuts in the 2,000-employee eastern U.S. newspaper operation.
The company said no other job cuts are planned.
The Manassas (Va.) News & Messenger, which traces its history to 1869, will publish its last edition on Dec. 30, according to World Media Enterprises Inc., a division of Buffett's Omaha-based Berkshire Hathaway Inc.
World Media said Wednesday it would eliminate the newspaper's 33 jobs and cut the jobs of 72 other people, mostly corporate staff positions it inherited at various locations in the Southeast when Berkshire purchased 63 newspapers from Media General Group of Richmond, Va., last June.
The closing includes the Manassas newspaper's website, Inside NOVA, and its northern Virginia companion weekly newspaper, NOVA Weekly.
The News & Messenger serves the 400,000-population Prince William County, Va., just southwest of Washington, D.C.
Terry Kroeger, chairman of World Media, said the newspaper is in direct competition with many other publications and, being part of a large metropolitan area, had a tough time finding the sense of community that a community newspaper needs to prosper. He said the paper had been losing money for years.
“We didn't see any way to really turn it back into a profitable enterprise, reliably, so what made the most sense was to just cease publication,” said Kroeger, who also is president and CEO of the Omaha World-Herald Co.
World Media plans no other newspaper closings, he said. “The rest of them, we're delighted with. It's just this one piece of it that had something that we didn't think we could overcome.”
Buffett, who is chairman and CEO of Berkshire Hathaway, purchased The Omaha World-Herald in December 2011 and the Media General newspapers in June. He said newspapers could remain viable businesses where people have a strong sense of community. He also bought two Texas community newspapers last summer.
When Berkshire acquired the Media General newspapers, Buffett said: “In towns and cities where there is a strong sense of community, there is no more important institution than the local paper. The many locales served by the newspapers we are acquiring fall firmly in this mold and we are delighted they have found a permanent home with Berkshire Hathaway.”
But at Berkshire's 2009 shareholder meeting in Omaha, he said that for most newspapers in the United States, “we wouldn't buy them at any price” if they are likely to have “unending losses.” Kroeger said that was the case with the Manassas newspaper.
Kroeger said he informed Buffett of the cutbacks and newspaper closing.
“He doesn't like to do that, but it's one of those things,” Kroeger said. “I made the recommendation to Warren that we do this, and I think it's the sensible thing to do. . . . This business had very negative momentum as it relates to earnings and market share.
“We think a sense of community's very important, and we're of the opinion that the larger the city, the harder it is to do that.”
In a press release, World Media said the affected employees will receive severance pay and assistance in finding new jobs, possibly elsewhere in the company.
Doug Hiemstra, president and CEO of World Media, said, “This was an extremely difficult decision for me and our management team, but one that needed to be made to make us stronger going forward.”
He said the purchase of the Media General papers “came together very quickly, and we knew at the time of the sale we would need to make some personnel and operating adjustments, but we needed a period of time to determine our new structure.”
The News & Messenger is one of eight daily and 22 weekly newspapers published in Virginia by World Media.
Hiemstra thanked the News & Messenger employees, readers and advertisers but said after an “exhaustive review,” the team saw no scenario that would lead to a profitable news operation there.
“Let me be clear: World Media remains bullish on community newspapers and our ability to publish news and advertising content on a variety of platforms that is useful to our readers and the communities in which they live,” Hiemstra said.
The News & Messenger was created in 2008 with the merger of the Potomac News and the Manassas Journal Messenger, which began publication in 1869. It publishes five days a week.
World Media said it would move publication of its 20,000-circulation weekly Stafford County Sun and production of military newspapers for Fort Belvoir and Quantico Marine Base to a different location. The newspaper building and other Manassas property is for sale.
World Media is a division of BH Media Group, which was formed by Berkshire after the Media General purchase. BH Media's other operating division is the Omaha World-Herald Co., which manages newspapers in Nebraska, Iowa and Texas.
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