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Buffett’s firm will close suburban DC newspaper

November 15, 2012

OMAHA, Neb. - Warren Buffett's company is planning to close a small Virginia newspaper that it bought from Media General earlier this year.

The 10,000-circulation Manassas (Va.) News & Messenger, which began publishing in 1869, has been struggling to compete in the Washington, D.C., suburbs. It will print its last issue on Dec. 30.

Buffett's Berkshire Hathaway Inc. said Wednesday it has no plans to close any of its other newspapers.

The Manassas closing will eliminate 33 jobs. An additional 72 corporate positions that Berkshire acquired with the Media General deal will be eliminated.

The Omaha World-Herald reported the closure on Wednesday. Officials at Berkshire's newspaper unit, which is run by World-Herald executives, declined to comment on the closing.

Buffett said the Omaha World-Herald announced the closure because it oversees Berkshire's newspapers, but he didn't respond to questions about the decision.

After Berkshire bought the Media General newspapers, Buffett said Berkshire may buy more newspapers as long as they cover their communities well and aren't very large.

The Manassas newspaper certainly fit Buffett's criteria as a small publication, but Terry Kroeger, who oversees Berkshire's newspaper division, told the Omaha World-Herald that the News & Messenger had a difficult time maintaining a sense of community in the area it covered, and it had been losing money for years.

The News & Messenger, which is based in Prince William County, Va., is also competing directly with several other media outlets in the Washington D.C. metropolitan area, including the Washington Post, in which Buffett's company has a large ownership stake.

"We didn't see any way to really turn it back into a profitable enterprise, reliably, so what made the most sense was to just cease publication," Kroeger said to the Omaha World-Herald. Kroeger said he recommended the closing to Buffett.

Outsell Inc. media analyst Ken Doctor said the closing appears to be a result of Berkshire's initial review of the Media General newspapers it bought. Doctor said the Manassas newspaper didn't appear to be in a strong position in a competitive market, so it didn't fit well with Berkshire's model.



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