JUNEAU, KENAI, HOMER PAPERS CHANGE HANDS
It’s the end of an era for Morris Communications.
The mid-sized family-run newspaper company, which started its Alaska publishing venture in 1969 with the Juneau Empire, has sold its newspaper division to Gatehouse Media.
The sale includes Alaska newspapers the Juneau Empire, Kenai Peninsula Clarion, and Homer News.
William S. “Billy” Morris III told Must Read Alaska that selling the newspapers was one of the hardest decisions of his life, but the time had come for his family, since newspapering is an increasingly difficult business.
Deedie McKenzie will remain as publisher of the Juneau Empire and Peninsula Clarion. Billy Morris will continue as publisher of The Augusta Chronicle, the company’s flagship paper, and will oversee editorial-page policy for three Morris newspapers in Georgia.
The Morris family will continue to own the Juneau Empire building and property on Egan Drive, where the Juneau Empire is the anchor tenant.
The Alaska Journal of Commerce was not part of the sale, Morris said. A weekly business-focused publication, the newspaper was one of the few the company retained, while 11 of its other daily and non-daily newspapers, printing operations and other publications were let go. Morris will retain ownership of Alaska Magazine and the Milepost.
Bottom line: Morris is restructuring its business to focus on lifestyle and niche publications, broadband operations, property development and new business opportunities. The sale to Gatehouse, a publicly traded company, will be completed by Oct. 2.
MORRIS’ HISTORIC ROOTS IN ALASKA
The Juneau Empire was the first property purchased by Billy Morris when he took over the company from his father, William S. Morris Jr., who got his own start in media as a bookkeeper at the Augusta Chronicle, a paper he and his wife later bought. Billy Morris grew up with “ink in his veins,” and joined the company in 1956. He became president 10 years later. He had been to Alaska, fallen in love with the state, and so purchased the Juneau Empire in 1969 as his first acquisition.
Morris purchased the Kenai Peninsula-Clarion in 1990 during an era when the company was expanding its newspaper division and starting its digital ventures.
At one point Morris owned nearly 40 small and medium-sized newspapers from Florida to Alaska, but it has been shrinking its newspaper division for the past several years.
The daily newspapers in the sale include The Florida Times-Union (Jacksonville); The St. Augustine (Fla.) Record; The Savannah (Ga.) Morning News; The Augusta (Ga.) Chronicle; The Athens (Ga.) Banner-Herald; Lubbock (Texas) Avalanche-Journal; Amarillo (Texas) Globe-News; the Topeka (Kan.) Capital-Journal; Log Cabin Democrat (Conway, Ark.); Juneau (Alaska) Empire; Peninsula Clarion (Kenai, Alaska); and Homer (Alaska) News. The commercial printing operation is West Texas Printing.
Morris III, chairman of Morris Communications, will remain as publisher of The Augusta Chronicle and will oversee editorial-page policy for the three Morris newspapers in Georgia. Morris said,
“Since 1929, the Morris family has had a great love and passion for journalism and the local communities that they serve. However, every newspaper company in America is battling trends and redirected advertising dollars, so it is necessary for newspapers to be part of a large newspaper group to build and maintain the necessary resources to compete. – William S. Morris III
“We are deeply grateful for the many friendships and business relationships we have enjoyed for these many years and look forward to the impact the next generation will make,” Morris said.
As part of the restructuring, all Morris Publishing Group magazines will be managed under Morris Media Network. Derek May, formerly president of Morris Publishing Group, will take a new leadership role as chief operating officer of the newly restructured company, the company said in a statement this morning.
William S. Morris IV, president and CEO of Morris Communications, said, “As the company transitions to the 3rd generation of leadership, we are enthusiastic about our plans to diversify our business holdings with print and digital communications, broadband and real estate development. We have found a wonderful buyer for the newspapers in GateHouse, as they are strongly committed to providing good community coverage for readers and effective solutions for advertisers. We will work closely with the new owners for a smooth transition over the coming weeks.”
MORRIS’ ALASKA HIGHLIGHTS
Morris has had the longest continuous ownership history of any communications entity in Alaska.
March 14, 1969: Announcement of purchase agreement for Southeast Alaska Empire (later renamed Juneau Empire).
July 1985: Construction began on new building for Juneau Empire.
February 1987: New building for Juneau Empire opened.
Nov. 23, 1990: Announced signing of letter of intent to purchase Peninsula Clarion, in Kenai, Alaska (purchase completed Dec. 13, 1990).
April 15, 1994: Susie B. Morris named acting publisher of Peninsula Clarion in Kenai, Alaska; subsequently named publisher.
Nov. 3, 1995: Purchased The Alaska Journal of Commerce, an Anchorage based business weekly. (“The” later dropped from flag.)
Nov. 15, 1996: Purchased Alaskan Equipment Trader, Anchorage (specialized publication).
November 1999: Started Alaska Military Weekly, free nondaily newspaper distributed to military personnel throughout the state, with local, national and international military news.
Feb. 5, 2000: Purchased Homer News (weekly).
Aug. 22, 2000: Purchased Alaska Star (weekly) in Eagle River.
August 2001: Alaska Oil & Gas Reporter, a specialized publication, started in Anchorage as separate publication. (Had been section of Alaska Journal of Commerce).
October 2002: Alaska Military Weekly became a section of the weekly Alaska Star.
October 2002: Alaska Oil & Gas Reporter once again became part of the Alaska Journal of Commerce.
June 12, 2003: Grand opening of Morris Alaska building in Anchorage (renovated after purchase in December 2001), housing Morris’ Anchorage publications and radio stations under one roof.
March 24, 2004: Purchased Capital City Weekly, a Juneau-based free newspaper, and Boat Broker, a monthly magazine companion publication.
May, 2015: Sold radio stations in Alaska, California, Kansas, Texas and Washington to Portland-based Alpha Media. Sale included “KBEAR 104.1” (KBRJ-FM), “KOOL 97.3” (KEAG-FM), KHAR 590 AM and 96.7 FM, “MIX 103.1” (KMXS-FM), KFQD 750 AM and 103.7 FM, KWHL-FM 106.5 and KAYO 100.9 FM.
August 9, 2017: Sold 11 newspapers, The Florida Times-Union (Jacksonville); The St. Augustine (Fla.) Record; The Savannah (Ga.) Morning News; The Augusta (Ga.) Chronicle; The Athens (Ga.) Banner-Herald; Lubbock (Texas) Avalanche-Journal; Amarillo (Texas) Globe-News; the Topeka (Kan.) Capital-Journal; Log Cabin Democrat (Conway, Ark.); Juneau (Alaska) Empire; Peninsula Clarion (Kenai, Alaska); and Homer (Alaska) News.