Papers Swapped in York, Pa.

By: Joe Strupp

In an unusual move, two daily newspapers in York, Pa., that have been operating under a joint operating agreement since 1990 effectively swapped ownership Wednesday, according to MediaNews Group Inc. Vice Chairman/CEO William Dean Singleton.

MediaNews agreed to sell the afternoon York Dispatch (Click for QuikCap) to Phil Buckner, whose family owns Buckner Alliance. In turn, Bucker Alliance agreed to sell the morning York Daily Record (Click for QuikCap) to MediaNews Group.

“We wanted to own the morning newspaper and pair it with the Sunday paper,” Singleton told E&P Wednesday. “That is the future of the franchise.”

Under the change, 19 editorial employees also will be relocated from the Dispatch to the Daily Record, Singleton said. He will retain ownership of the York Sunday News, the lone Sunday publication.

Liz Evans, Dispatch unit chair for the Communication Workers of America Local 38218 — which represents most of the workers at both papers — expressed dismay that the transfer of so many Dispatch employees to the Record has “basically gutted the staff,” which has been reduced to 33 editorial employees. “We have to somehow put out the paper, and I believe we will.”

“We are relieved to finally know the future of our newspaper,” said Shawn Ledington, Daily Record unit chair. “We are concerned that the new folks from the Dispatch will be operating under the Dispatch contract, which pays less than the Record.”

The publishing frequency of the papers will not change under the deal, which will keep the morning Daily Record on a Monday-Saturday schedule, while the afternoon Dispatch will continue to publish Monday through Friday.

The sale follows Denver-based MediaNews Group’s March filing of a disclosure statement with the Securities and Exchange Commission, which stated that the company anticipated a deal to be completed during its fiscal fourth quarter, which runs from April to June.

Under a JOA provision added in 1996, MediaNews had an option during 2004 to buy the Daily Record for a previously agreed-upon price of about $32 million.

If MediaNews did not choose to buy the paper during 2004, a second provision would have kicked in on Jan. 1, 2005. That option would have allowed Buckner to force MediaNews to buy the Daily Record at any time between 2005 and 2007.

If neither of the options were exercised by the end of 2007, the JOA would have continued as it was until 2090. Under the sale announced today, the JOA will remain in place, Singleton said.

Singleton said the deal — finances of which he declined to reveal — involves a sale to Phil Buckner, one of the shareholders of Buckner News Alliance, rather than the Alliance itself. Buckner said the Alliance, which will continue to own the Pecos (Texas) Enterprise and other properties, did not wish to be involved in the purchase of the Dispatch. “It was my decision to purchase the Dispatch,” Buckner, 73, said. “I think York is a great place and has a real rationale for an ongoing afternoon newspaper.”

Daily Record Editor and Publisher Dennis Hetzel will leave the paper as part of the swap, turning over editing duties to managing editor James McClure, while Fred Uffelman, president of the York Newspaper Company, which runs the business operations of both papers under the JOA, becomes Daily Record publisher.

“There was some discussion [with MediaNews Group about Hetzel staying] and we decided to go our own ways,” Hetzel said about his decision to leave. “I am moving forward and I view things as a chance to explore new opportunities.”

Deena Gross, editor of the Dispatch, will retain her title. A new publisher for the Dispatch, for which Singleton had served as publisher, had not been announced.

The Daily Record’s Monday-Friday circulation is 46,554, according to the Audit Bureau of Circulations report of March 31, 2004. The Dispatch circulation was 37,279 for the same period and the York Sunday News circ was 93,249.

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