By: George Garneau
Miller family, which has owned and managed Berkshire Eagle
for three generations, puts the debt-saddled, Pittsfield,
Mass., newspaper and three other N.E. dailies on the block sp.
DEBT-SADDLED EAGLE Publishing Group, owner of the Berkshire Eagle in Pittsfield, Mass., and three other New England dailies, has put itself up for sale.
The closely held company, owned and managed by three generations of the Miller family, has hired a broker and is seeking an outright sale or a cash infusion from a passive investor.
President Michael G. Miller declined to discuss details but said initial meetings were starting in New York the first week of January.
Miller has said the company was profitable last year but “continues to carry a high debt burden and plans to take steps to improve profits and reduce debt.”
Late in 1993, Eagle Publishing, citing “financial reasons,” reluctantly sold the 17,000-circulation Torrington, Conn., Register Citizen to Journal Register Co., owner of the nearby New Haven Register. Also, staffs were cut at the Eagle and its sister papers, and employees accepted shorter work weeks and unpaid leaves as alternatives to layoffs.
Much of Eagle’s debt flows from a $26-million office complex it converted from a former paper mill in 1987. Eagle now occupies nearly one-third of the project, while much of the rest remains vacant.
In a story in the Eagle, Lewis C. Cuyler reported that when Michael Miller, editor Mark C. Miller, his brother, and chief operating officer Martin C. Langeveld disclosed to employees the plan to sell, “the financial toll of the past few years was etched on the faces of both Millers.”
The moment, Cuyler said, “bespoke the inexorable pressure of debt, a situation that had forced them to abandon a cherished tradition of family newspaper ownership and, with it, the legacy of stewardship of projects throughout the county for more than 100 years.”
In a prepared statement, Michael Miller described the “ideal” deal as “a significant investment resulting in the Miller family operating the newspaper group in partnership with another firm or individual.”
The company said it is hoping to complete a transaction in three to six months.
The highly regarded Eagle sells about 32,000 papers a day. Eagle Publishing’s other properties include, in Vermont, the 8,000-circulation Bennington Banner, 11,000-circulation Brattleboro Reformer and a weekly in Manchester; in Connecticut, the 14,000-circulation Middletown Press; and, in Massachusetts, two commercial printing operations and a courier service. Eagle Publishing employs about 460 people.
It may be a propitious time to sell, since sales of newspaper companies soared last year at surprisingly strong prices, aided by the industry’s strong rebound from a three-year advertising slump, one of the worst in decades. Deals last year included two significant groups, Stauffer and Park, and Warren Buffet’s major investment in Gannett Co., the nation’s largest newspaper publisher, gave the industry a major psychological boost as well.
But the kind of deal Eagle was seeking immediately ruled out some of the companies most likely to buy, since few newspaper proprietors risk investing in companies they don’t control.