As often happens, some great material was left in the notebook after Sunday’s column on prospects for more local newspaper ownership.

I interviewed two Iowa publishers buying papers from a Missouri media company. All three companies could be the subject of an entire column.

Here are more details that didn’t fit Sunday, about the sales and why there’s optimism in places about local newspaper ownership despite the industry’s challenges.

The sales went through Iowa’s Hall family, which already owned several papers and a press. It now has eight papers with paid circulation and four shoppers.

Christopher Hall, publisher of the Charles City Press, told me it remains a good business, particularly for small papers with circulation below 10,000 copies.

“The markets out here in Iowa have been very supportive of the local newspaper, advertising and subscribers,” he said.

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The Charles City paper reaches 65% to 70% of the local households, with 2,500 print subscribers and 400 paying for an electronic edition.

“Once digital takes off, or a hybrid takes off, local news, local media, is going to be a good business,” he said.

There are lots of newspaper transactions happening in Iowa, with many papers for sale and a lot of people bidding, Hall told me.

Nationally, more than 75 newspapers sold so far this year, according to a report by broker Dirks, Van Essen & April. It said “the majority of the deals completed included smaller newspapers and local buyers.”

Hall said there are more places to get information but local papers are “trusted more, they’re verified.”

“There’s a couple of online papers around us and a couple Facebook and social media pages where people submit their own what they call news,” he said. “But none of it covers news like we do, courts, county budgets, school board issues.”

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The Charles City paper is flanked by two dailies in towns a half-hour away, both owned by Davenport, Iowa-based Lee Enterprises. 

“They’re still publishing six days a week in our markets, but the quality of the editorial is really low and the number of local stories is really low,” he said. “They’re sharing a lot of their news across the state with Lee publications.”

Hall was able to hire five Lee employees over the last five years, “and they’re all studs.”

“We have the same editorial size as (Lee’s Globe-Gazette in) Mason City, Iowa, and they’re three times our population,” he said. “My wife keeps asking when we’re going to buy Mason City.”

The Halls sound like a more benevolent owner than Alden Global Capital, the hedge fund known for buying papers and slashing newsroom spending that is aggressively trying to acquire Lee.

“There’s a lot of locally owned papers in second- and third-generation (publishers) around me,” Hall said. “We’re all fairly optimistic. On bad days we hope somebody can figure out the digital side to make it churn but the markets are stable here. The readers want to know what’s going on in their markets.”

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In Storm Lake, Iowa, the Cullen family bought two of the Rust papers from the Halls as part of the three-way transaction. As I wrote Sunday, they merged the Storm Lake Pilot Tribune into the Storm Lake Times and are looking to sell the paper in nearby Cherokee to local owners.

Editor Art Cullen is less optimistic about the financial situation of local newspapers. But he said the merger and business-side talent that’s being acquired will help.

“We’re really good editors. We haven’t been really good salespeople,” he said. “We’re picking up some sales people as a result of this merger who are good, so that’s important too.”

Rust Communications, the Missouri company, did not respond to my inquiry.

The family-owned company is undergoing a transition. In January it lost co-president Rex Rust to cancer at age 52. In March it sold nine papers in Arkansas and Missouri to Cherry Road, the New Jersey publishing startup I wrote about in October.

Then in April, Rust closed the sale of papers in northwest Iowa, including two dailies, four weeklies and several shoppers.

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In a news release announcing the sale, the company’s president, Jon Rust, said it’s “happy to entrust the award-winning newspapers of Northwest Iowa to the Hall family” and praised employees for their hard work and dedication.

“With the Halls’ ownership, the future looks bright,” he said in the release.

Let’s hope so, and that more dwindling and offloaded local papers are able to attract new owners committed to investing in news and serving their communities.

WSU Murrow Symposium: Video of Washington State University’s Murrow Symposium is now online, including a panel on saving local news and Lifetime Achievement Award recipient Ann Curry’s terrific acceptance speech. They’re at https://vimeo.com/showcase/9435508.

This is excerpted from the free, weekly Voices for a Free Press newsletterSign up to receive it at the Save the Free Press website here.