Lee Enterprises Inc. announced late Wednesday afternoon that it will buy the remaining half of the Sioux City Journal, bringing the newspaper fully into its group of 45 daily papers in 18 states across the country.

Lee, based in Davenport, Iowa, bought half-interest in the paper in February when it acquired Howard Publications, which had owned the Journal in partnership with The Hagadone Corp. of Coeur d'Alene, Idaho, since 1971. Now Hagadone is selling its half to Lee as well.

"We've been exceptionally proud of the Sioux City Journal and its people, and we've enjoyed making a meaningful contribution to the community," Duane Hagadone, president of The Hagadone Corp., said in a statement. "At the same time, we can think of no better successor than Lee Enterprises. It's an exciting, growing newspaper company with a great future."

"We are now part of the Lee family full time," Journal publisher Ron Peterson told his employees, gathered for the announcement. Peterson said the deal will be finalized within the next 30 days. Peterson said Sioux City is his home and he will definitely stay on as publisher. "We've enjoyed many years being part of the Hagadone group and I have the most respect for Duane Hagadone. I'm really looking forward to the new challenges and opportunities of working with Lee Enterprises."

Lee Enterprises is a 112-year-old company and is the 12th largest newspaper company in the United States. It owns 38 daily papers and joint interest in seven others. Among its properties in this region are the Quad-City Times in Davenport, the Waterloo (Iowa) Courier and the Lincoln (Neb.) Journal Star, although Lee owns newspapers from New York to California. The company has nearly 7,500 employees and a combined daily circulation of more than 1.1 million. It is publicly traded on the New York Stock Exchange under the symbol LEE.

Greg R. Veon, Lee vice president of publishing, joined Peterson in making the announcement to employees and welcomed them to Lee Enterprises. He said Lee had made a strategic decision more than two years ago to divest its 16 television stations and commit to the growth of newspapers.

"We really think that's where the future is," he said. He said Lee's strategy is to own newspapers with circulation of 30,000 to 120,000, and said the company is "very comfortable" in Sioux City, which he noted meets Lee's criteria of being a growing, stable market with good prospects for continued growth.

In a telephone interview Wednesday afternoon, Lee Enterprises chairman, president and CEO Mary Junck, said she is impressed with the Journal and Sioux City's growth, both downtown and elsewhere.

"You all have a lot going on there," she said. She added that Lee is committed to delivering strong local news reporting as well as giving strong support to local advertisers. But, she said, readers probably won't notice too many changes in the paper; the company also believes in strong local control.

Peterson said there will be synergies created by being part of Lee and that readers will likely see stronger state reporting because of Lee's strength in that area.

"They're a bigger company with more resources. I'm looking forward to tapping their resources, their knowledge," he said, noting that Lee has an entire division dedicated to the Internet. "I think they'll help us implement a lot of things we want to do," Peterson said.

Veon said the company waited until the financial markets had closed to tell employees about the ownership change. He said Lee would make the announcement publicly about 6 a.m. today, before the markets open.

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