USA Today parent Gannett generated a passel of headlines as 2019 kicked off. In January, the company got a buyout offer from MNG Enterprises, known as Digital First Media, USA Today reported. 

Digital First Media offered to purchase USA Today owner Gannett for $12 a share in an unsolicited offer, the paper reported.

“Consistent with its fiduciary duties and in consultation with its financial and legal advisors, the Gannett board of directors will carefully review the proposal received to determine the course of action that it believes is in the best interest of the company and Gannett shareholders,” the company said in a statement.

“As promised, we will keep you informed as new information is available, but we are still business as usual,” said Gannett CEO Robert J. Dickey in an email to employees. 

Hedge fund Alden Global Capital is the majority owner in Digital First. Among its properties are The Denver Post, the Los Angeles Daily News and the Boston Herald. 

“Frankly, the team leading Gannett has not demonstrated that it’s capable of effectively running this enterprise as a public company,” said a Digital First letter to Gannett’s board, signed by MNG chairman Joseph Fuchs. The letter said that Digital First holds a 7.5 percent ownership stake. 

Leadership

On Dec. 5, Dickey told the company’s board of directors he was retiring. He agreed to stay on until May 7, 2019, but may leave earlier if a successor is named, the company said. 

Gannett’s board hired Zurich-based Egon Zehnder to evaluate replacement candidates, the company said. 

The headhunters may go outside the newspaper industry, perhaps to digital or e-commerce, according to the New York Post. 

Poynter’s Rick Edmonds says Gannett has turned to internal candidates to fill the CEO position since 1986. 

In December Edmonds suggested Maribel Perez Wadsworth and Sharon Rowlands as inside possibilities. Wadsworth is president of the USA Today Network and publisher of USA Today. Rowlands, who headed USA Today Network Marketing Solutions and marketing firm ReachLocal, has taken a job as CEO of Web.com. Gannett named Kevin Gentzel, the company’s chief revenue officer, to replace her. 

McLean, Virginia-based Gannett’s brands include USA Today, 109 local media organizations in 34 states, U.K. media company Newsquest, ReachLocal, SweetIQ and WordStream.

“With the support of the nearly 17,000 employees across the company, we have created an organization well positioned to thrive in the years to come,” Dickey said in the company’s announcement on his retirement. “While the board undertakes its duty to plan for the future, I will continue working hard alongside my talented and dedicated colleagues to support Gannett’s leadership, continue our digital transformation and position our brands for long-term success.” 

Buyouts,

building sold Other headlines came out of Gannett in late 2018 and early 2019. 

Other headlines came out of Gannett in late 2018 and early 2019.

•In October, Gannett offered buyouts to employees age 55+ with a minimum of 15 years with the company, the Detroit Free Press reported. Employees at various Gannett properties reportedly took the offers.

• Gannett sold its 10-story office building in Phoenix for $37.65 million, according to public real estate records, the Arizona Republic reported in late December.

The 250,000-square-foot building, built in 1995, houses The Arizona Republic and azcentral.com. Phoenix real estate firm ViaWest Group has bought the property, through an entity named EVB 200 Office.

•Gannett is looking to offshore certain work, Dickey said at the UBS Global Media and Communications Conference, held Dec. 4 in New York City. 

•At the Dec. 4 conference, Dickey talked about the USA Today model, which he said has been “a very successful one digitally.”

“Over the last three years, we’ve grown USA Today’s advertising mix to be about 75 percent digital, 25 percent print.”

“USA Today is more profi table than it’s ever been in its history of 30-plus years. So you can monetize that audience.”

“We also have other ways to monetize the USA Today audience, through registration, email marketing and things like that. We are in the early stages of that, but there is potential there,” he said.

Dickey also spoke about partnerships with Facebook, Twitter and Amazon. “We feel very good about our partnership with Google,” Dickey said, in particular through Google Amp.

“The issue remains that fair use and copyright laws need to be updated. Publishers are creating all the content and we’re just not getting paid. It’s an old argument. There is a need to fi nd a way to get to a better, more fair distribution of that revenue.

•Industry analyst Ken Doctor, in his Jan. 18 Newsonomics column, speculated that a Tribune Publishing-Gannett merger could be in the cards. His speculation comes amid a leadership shakeup at Tribune Publishing. 

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