Buffett’s group buys newspaper chain

Investment guru Warren Buffett, the billionaire chairman and CEO of Berkshire Hathaway, is still bullish about the future of the newspaper business.

Billionaire investor Warren Buffett, who as a boy earned money delivering newspapers, is buying 63 of them, including five in South Carolina.

Buffett’s Berkshire Hathaway Inc. has agreed to spend $142 million to purchase the papers spread across the Carolinas, Virginia and Alabama from Media General Inc.

In the Palmetto State, the deal includes the Morning News, a daily publication in Florence, as well as smaller community newspapers in the rural Pee Dee region serving Hartsville, Lake City, Hemingway, Marion and Mullins.

The larger papers that Berkshire is picking include the Richmond Times-Dispatch and the Winston-Salem Journal.

“In towns and cities where there is a strong sense of community, there is no more important institution than the local paper,” Buffett said in a statement Thursday. “The many locales served by the newspapers we are acquiring fall firmly in this mold, and we are delighted they have found a permanent home with Berkshire Hathaway.”

Excluded from the deal were the papers in Tampa, Fla., including the Tampa Tribune. Media General said it is in talks with other potential buyers for that group.

Buffett is not a newcomer to the newspaper business. His Nebraska-based investment company has owned the Buffalo News of New York since 1977, and it recently bought its hometown paper, the Omaha World-Herald.

After souring on the business a few years ago, Buffett has since defended newspapers even as they face stiff competition for advertising dollars and eyeballs from other media outlets. He has argued that well-run papers will have a decent future if they continue delivering information that can’t be found elsewhere and if they stop giving away news for free over the Internet.

The acquired papers will be part of BH Media Group and managed by World Media Enterprises Inc.

Berkshire also is providing Media General with a $400 million loan and a $45 million line of credit in exchange for a 19.9 percent stake in the Richmond, Va.-based company.

Marshall Morton, president and chief executive officer of Media General, called the deal “a monumental change for us.”

“We’re very happy that our newspapers will become part of Berkshire Hathaway’s BH Media Group, a company with a strong commitment to local news leadership and community engagement,” Morton said.

He said the transaction will accelerate Media General’s plan to focus on its broadcast television business. Locally, the company owns WCBD-TV, the Mount Pleasant-based NBC affiliate.