NORFOLK, Va. (AP) — Chicago-based media company Tronc Inc. said Tuesday that it has acquired all of The Virginian-Pilot Media Companies, which publishes Virginia’s largest daily newspaper, for $34 million in cash.
The purchase by the company formerly known as Tribune Publishing reflects the growing trend of media corporations buying family owned newspapers. Many have struggled as costs of adapting to a changing media environment have risen and advertising revenue has declined.
The acquisition from Landmark Media Enterprises includes The Virginian-Pilot newspaper, PilotOnline.com and Pilot Targeted Media. The newspaper serves communities including Norfolk and Virginia Beach, the state’s largest city.
Tronc already owns the Daily Press in Newport News, which is across the Elizabeth River and covers the northern part of Virginia’s Hampton Roads region. The Virginian-Pilot has traditionally covered the area’s more populated southern half.
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Rick Edmonds, a media business analyst with The Poynter Institute, said challenges are mounting for local newspapers, especially as the need grows to update technology. Larger companies like Tronc have an economic advantage with more centralized operations.
“It’s difficult to operate a newspaper independently,” he said. “You need big investments.”
The Virginian-Pilot isn’t alone. GateHouse Media recently bought The Columbus Dispatch in Ohio, while Gannett purchased The Record in Bergen County, New Jersey.
Edmonds said some type of merger between The Virginian-Pilot and the Daily Press is likely — as are reductions in staff.
“Local owners tend to be close to their community and have a real good sense of where to go for stories, and I think at least a little bit of that may get lost,” Edmonds added. “My opinion is that Tronc still has many good journalists and a number of good papers. And it’s not like they’ve stripped them to the bone.”
Tronc’s other media holdings include the Chicago Tribune, New York Daily News, The Baltimore Sun, South Florida’s Sun-Sentinel and Hartford Courant.
Some staff members at The Virginian-Pilot said the deal was a surprise. But the paper had been up for sale since 2008.
“If there’s one thing I know about the newspaper business, it’s that change is constant and this is another example of that,” said reporter Tim Eberly, a 2018 Pulitzer Prize finalist for investigative reporting.
“I’ve gotten pretty used to it at this point,” he said. “So I’m taking a wait-and-see approach to the sale and focusing on my work, which is what matters the most.”
Quentin Kidd, a political science professor at Christopher Newport University in Newport News, said common ownership between the Daily Press and The Virginian-Pilot might help readers.
He said the two halves of Hampton Roads have always struggled to identify as one, with the two newspapers perpetuating that view. And yet the entire area of 1.5 million people faces common struggles with issues like sea-level rise and the possibility of military base closures.
“We don’t read the same news. We don’t understand what’s going on with each other,” he said. “If there’s a singular source of news that raises these civic issues as a region, that’s good for all of us.”