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Lee Enterprises brings long history to Buffalo News deal

The prospective buyer of The Buffalo News is a publicly traded company based in Iowa that traces its roots to 1890.

Lee Enterprises has built its presence around the country, primarily in midsize markets. It has a small presence in New York State, through ownership of the Citizen in Auburn and the Post-Star in Glens Falls.

Lee's portfolio, before the purchase agreement to buy The Buffalo News, was a mix of 50 daily newspapers, digital products and over 200 weekly and specialty publications serving 50 markets in 20 states. The company says its newspapers collectively have average circulation of 700,000 daily and 1 million on Sundays, and are estimated to reach nearly 3 million readers in print alone.

Lee's planned purchase of The Buffalo News and the 30 daily newspapers run by BH Media Group would bring its portfolio of daily newspapers to 81 and nearly double its audience size.

Lee recorded net income of $16 million in fiscal 2019, which ended last September, on total revenues of $510 million. Since 2018, Lee has managed Berkshire Hathaway Media Group's publications – but not The Buffalo News – under an agreement with Berkshire Hathaway. Lee generated $12.6 million in revenue from that management agreement in its past fiscal year.

Presses roll out an edition of the Buffalo News. (Mark Mulville/Buffalo News)

Lee has a concentration of media properties in the Midwest. Among the best-known papers in its portfolio is the St. Louis Post Dispatch.

Lee's origins date to 1890, when A.W. Lee became a publisher, taking charge of a paper in Ottumwa, Iowa, with the help of investors. On its website, Lee Enterprises notes that a reporter from its paper in Bismarck, N.D., died with George Custer at the Battle of the Little Bighorn in 1876, and that in 1973, its paper in Davenport, Iowa, was the first in the world to be produced completely by computer.

Acquisitions have fueled Lee's growth into one of the nation's largest newspaper chains. In 2002, Lee bought Howard Newspapers, a family-owned chain of 16 papers, in a $694 million deal. And in 2005, Lee bought Pulitzer Inc. and its 14 daily newspapers for $1.46 billion.

Lee filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy in late 2011, and emerged the following year. In 2012, Warren E. Buffett acquired a stake in Lee through Berkshire Hathaway.

Lee's stock closed up 67%, at $2.10 per share, in trading Wednesday on the New York Stock Exchange.

Buffalo News sale rides industry wave of consolidation

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