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Wednesday, February 27, 2013

TULSA WORLD: Tulsa World to be sold to Warren Buffett's BH Media


Warren Buffett's BH Media Group is buying the Tulsa World for an undisclosed price.

World Publishing Co. Chairman Robert E. Lorton announced the sale in a meeting with newspaper employees Monday morning.

"This has not been an easy decision, as you can imagine, after more than 100 years for the Lortons, but for our employees - you all - for the Tulsa World and for the Tulsa community, we believe - and have decided - this is the best path to the future," Lorton said.

Robert E. Lorton III, the company's CEO and the newspaper's publisher, will leave the newspaper and will be succeeded as publisher by John R. Bair, previously the company's president and chief operating officer.

Bair said: "I sit here today with mixed emotions. For the past 12 years, I have worked for the Lorton family, and I will miss interacting with them daily. They are passionate about the newspaper industry and care deeply about this community.

"However, this is an exciting time in our industry, and I am confident that this announcement is in the best interest of our shareholders, employees and the communities we serve. BH Media has a top-notch management team, and I look forward to working with them to build upon the great legacy of this institution."

BH Media Group is a division of Buffett's Berkshire Hathaway Inc., which owns or is a major shareholder in companies such as Fruit of the Loom, BNSF railroad company, Helzberg Diamonds and See's Candies. FlightSafety International, which has a new $42 million, 375,000-square-foot flight simulator manufacturing facility in Broken Arrow, is also a unit of Berkshire Hathaway.

BH Media Group owns 28 daily newspapers and 42 weekly newspapers in Nebraska, Iowa, Texas, Oklahoma, Virginia, North Carolina, South Carolina, Alabama and Florida.

The World will be the third-largest newspaper in the BH Media Group chain, behind the Omaha World-Herald in Nebraska and the Richmond Times-Dispatch in Virginia.

Bair said Buffett is one of the smartest investors in the world, and his decision to buy the Tulsa World "speaks very highly of our employees and business in general. This change of ownership only strengthens our ability to serve this region."

Gov. Mary Fallin greeted the news with praise for the Lorton family, and she welcomed Buffett and Berkshire Hathaway.

"The Lortons have been living and writing Oklahoma history for over a century," Fallin said. "Under their leadership, the Tulsa World has become a successful business and a widely read paper. My thanks go out to a great Oklahoma family for their contributions to the state and to journalism. And to Berkshire Hathaway, welcome to Oklahoma! We wish the company great success."

The Tulsa World, with a daily circulation of 95,000 and a Sunday circulation of 133,000, is the leading provider of local news and information for the Tulsa area. Tulsaworld.com is the largest and best-read local website in Tulsa County and the surrounding area.

At the conclusion of Monday morning's meeting, Tulsa World employees gave the Lorton family a standing ovation.

Terry Kroeger, the CEO of BH Media Group, said: "The Tulsa World is a special newspaper in an outstanding market, and we are honored to have the opportunity to own it. This is a great fit for our company, and we look forward for this region. We welcome the Tulsa employees into the BH Media family and are delighted to have the opportunity to work with them."

Negotiations for the newspaper's sale have been taking place for a couple of months, said Kroeger, who added that the newspaper's name and downtown headquarters won't be changing.

"The Tulsa World (name) is a big piece of what we're buying," he said.

The newspaper's circulation and profitability and its strong connections to a thriving community all made the World an attractive purchase, Kroeger said.

Tulsa's low unemployment and the strengths of the education, medical and petroleum industries in the city make the market attractive, he added.

"It seems obvious to us that there are some very positive things going on in the market that bode well for the future of this marketplace," Kroeger said.

Community-oriented newspapers are key to the BH Media Group strategy, he said.

"Things that we find in an Omaha or a Tulsa or a Richmond or, for that matter, a College Station, tend to have something to rally around locally," he said. "I'm not picking on the Chicagos or the New Yorks of the world, but I just think it's harder to do that there."

Larry King, BH Media Group's vice president for news and content, told a gathering of Tulsa World editors that news decisions will continue to be made locally.

"When it comes to news, you're not going to hear from me," he said. "I just want to assure you that there's no one from Omaha looking down your throats and trying to tell you how to cover Tulsa."

Eventually, the chain could look at the editorial software used to produce the newspaper, the digital content the newspaper purchases from vendors, and efficiencies that are possible by combining efforts with other BH Media Group newspapers, but beyond that, the newspaper will be locally operated, he said.

"I want to assure you, ... you won't hear from me on anything having to do with local or regional coverage or how you cover the news - nothing," King said, inviting World editors to contact their counterparts at other BH Media Group newspapers for confirmation of that.

Rick Thornton, vice president for audience and content development at the Richmond Times-Dispatch, said local editors have been left in place there to guide the newspaper since its sale to BH Media Group about June 25.

"They haven't gotten in the middle of anything news-wise or editorial-wise," he said. "Those are all local decisions that are made by our editors."

The newspaper hasn't had big personnel shifts since the purchase other than the addition of four reporters to the staff in an effort to beef up local coverage, Thornton said.

"The publisher is still the publisher. The editor is still the editor. All the senior editors are still the senior editors. All the reporters are still the reporters," he said.

King said the Tulsa World's content-sharing agreement with The Oklahoman - which was recently sold to the Anschutz Corp. of Denver - will likely continue and that content-sharing options with other BH Media Group newspapers likely will develop.

Kroeger said the Tulsa World is and has been profitable, which made it an attractive buy.

"We don't have any newspapers that don't make money," he said.

King said BH Media Group remains bullish on the newspaper industry.

"I don't think I'm telling any secrets, but there'll be more (purchases) to come," he said.

The sale of the Tulsa World is expected to close in March.


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