21st Century Chain Still Big On Motown

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By: Mark Fitzgerald

A few years ago, Frank H. Shepherd thought about retiring and even briefly put a “For Sale” sign on 21st Century Newspapers Inc. That was then, this is now: Last week, his group bought Heritage Newspapers Inc.’s 23 Detroit-area community papers. It was the ninth acquisition since he started 21st Century in 1997 by purchasing The Oakland Press in Pontiac, Mich.

“I tell you I got lucky again,” CEO and President Shepherd said. “People think Detroit is a bad place? Well, I find jewels amid the rocks.”

Heritage papers have a (mostly paid) combined circulation of nearly 300,000. The purchase gives Pontiac-based 21st Century 68 titles, including three dailies, in Detroit’s affluent suburbs and exurbs.

Just before he killed himself in July after a long bout with depression, Detroit business legend Heinz C. Prechter decided to sell Heritage. No terms of the deal, brokered by Dirks, Van Essen & Murray, Santa Fe, N.M., were announced.

The Heritage papers will be run as a separate unit headed by Dan P. Smith, former Morris Communications Corp. vice president.

On Thursday, 21st Century disclosed that its Greater Detroit Newspaper Network (GDNN), which handles national and regional advertising for its properties, is in “unification” discussions with the Spring Newspaper Network, which represents the Observer & Eccentric Newspapers group and the Livingston County Daily Press & Argus in Howell. “With this combination,” said GDNN President Jerry W. Ballenger, “we can provide unduplicated delivery to 3 million households … with a single buy.”

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