After checking out our post Hubbard Broadcasting dropped $50,000 into Republican State Leadership Committee's bucket, a reader in Little Falls sent us a kind note about political spending by new owner of the Morrison County Record and other ECM Publishing newspapers.
Some background: legendary Range editor and curmudgeon Bill Hanna reported on August 10's press release Adams Publishing Group acquires ECM publications:
Adams Publishing Group announced today that it intends to purchase ECM Publishers Inc., founded by former Gov. Elmer L. Andersen, which is one of the largest publishers of weekly newspapers in the country.
ECM has 50 individual publications reaching more than 600,000 households across central Minnesota and western Wisconsin.
“We are excited to welcome the ECM associates to our APG team in Minnesota,” said APG Chairman Stephen Adams. “Our company is headquartered here, and my family has a long newspaper history in the state of Minnesota. ECM has done a fine job navigating through difficult times, and producing the highest quality print and digital products. We commend them for their efforts, and wish the Andersen family the best in their future endeavors.” . . .
. . . APG owns the northern Minnesota publications Mesabi Daily News, Hibbing Daily Tribune, Grand Rapids Herald-Review, Chisholm Tribune Press, Pilot Independent in Walker and Manney’s Shoppers.It also owns several southern Minnesota publications, including the Faribault Daily News, Owatonna People’s Press, Waseca County News, St. Peter Herald, Northfield News, Lonsdale Area News-Review, Le Sueur News-Herald, Kenyon Leader, Le Center Leader and several shoppers.
The Adams family also owns radio stations, outdoor advertising companies and Camping World/Good Sam, a national distributor of recreational vehicles and camping-related products and services.
Our reader's note included this September 11 item from CNN's Theodore Schleifer, Billboard magnate pours fortune into unusual single-handed effort for Trump:
A billionaire backing Donald Trump is taking advertising into his own hands.
Stephen Adams, a billboard magnate who made his fortune in a half-dozen different business ventures over the last five decades, is pouring hundreds of thousands of dollars into a pro-Trump campaign. Yet it is not the Trump campaign or a Trump super PAC that is spending over $650,000 to boost the Republican nominee -- it is Adams himself, who his buying his own billboards in a set of swing states.
It is an unusual purchase and a throwback to a previous era when the wealthy had close to unfettered control over how their dollars were spent. Adams disclosed the spending this week in independent expenditure reports almost always filed by political action committees or nonprofits, rather than individuals: $150,000 in North Carolina, $200,000 in Pennsylvania and $300,000 in Michigan.
That is not a trivial amount of money, given the long struggles of Trump high-dollar efforts. If donated to a PAC -- staffed by professional operatives and fundraisers -- Adams would instantly become one of Trump's top donors.
But Adams is hanging a shingle.
"Mr. Adams is a long-time supporter of, and contributor to, the Republican Party," said an Adams aide, Rich Zecchino. "He has contributed these advertisements to the presidential campaign in furtherance of that historical support."
The digital billboards produced by his company, Adams Outdoor Advertising, are not flashy, with simple white text reading "For the people" overlayed on a navy background accompanied with an American flag. The bottom reads "Trump Pence 2016" in bold. And it is not the first time that Adams has gone outside the normal campaign finance system to support his chosen candidate. A Republican donor for decades, Adams financed similar billboard campaigns in 2000 and 2004, federal election records show, spending $1 million each cycle in order, when asked on federal forms for the purpose of his independent expenditure, "to win election." . . .
A search of the Open Secrets database reveals Stephen Adams had contributed $1,008,982 in Independent Expenditures, Communication Costs and Coordinated Expenses for Republicans as of October 26, 2016.
None of the billboards appears to have been sighted in Minnesota, additional evidence that this isn't a swing state.
And here The Donald and his supporters whine about media bias. Perhaps Mr. Adams' giving at the top will cancel Mr. Hubbard's reluctance to support Trump, although his down ticket largesse to the pachyderm party is impressive as ever.
More about Stephen Adams
Bluestem recommends the Wikipedia entry for Stephen Adams as an entry point for getting to know the aging tycoon who owns so many greater Minnesota and suburban papers. A Skull and Bones man at Yale, Adams is "son of long-time newspaper journalist and CBS radio and television broadcaster Cedric Adams."
A native of Adrian, MN, Cedric Adams was "the 'best known voice' in the upper Midwest" from the 1930s through the 1950s, according to his own Wikipedia entry, and the radio celebrity's newspaper column carried in 20 papers marks the family's "long newspaper history in the state of Minnesota."
The rest of the family's "newspaper history" is of relatively recent origin, according to articles published by local venues in Ohio and Maryland upon the firm's acquisition of local papers. In 2014, Jim Phillips of the Athens News reported in Local daily gets swept up in massive media sale:
A little over six years after it was bought by a Texas-based newspaper chain on behalf of an Australian mega-bank, The Athens Messenger has been sold again.
The buyer this time is the corporate persona of a multi-millionaire (some say billionaire), whose business background is in billboards, banks, retail stores, RVs, magazines and direct marketing; who is new to newspapers; and who reportedly likes to dabble in music and French vineyards.
The purchase, which was announced with almost no fanfare on the part of the buyer, is part of a much bigger deal involving a total of 34 print publications, special print products, digital media assets and commercial printing facilities, according to a report (apparently based on a news release) posted by Editor & Publisher magazine March 14.
Adams Publishing Group LLC (APG) - apparently principally owned by 76-year-old private equity investor Stephen Adams - has announced it is buying three newspaper divisions from American Consolidated Media (ACM), which had owned The Messenger and other regional papers including the Logan Daily News. . . .
Online information about APG was initially difficult to find, but once the connection with private equity capitalist Stephen Adams was confirmed, it became quite a lot easier. There's quite a bit of biographical and background information available on Adams and his enterprises, including a complete Wikipedia entry and another in Bloomburg BusinessWeek.
A story that ran last Friday in Maryland's Cecil Times, a small news outlet that covers the same community as the Cecil Whig, one of the newspapers in the new APG Media of Chesapeake company, noted that one thing "unusual" for such a large media buyout was "the total absence of any comment by the purchaser - only comments from regional executives of the sellers, ACM, were included in the local newspaper's published reports." . . .
That Cecil Times' post, Cecil Whig, Shore Newspapers Sold; Mystery Surrounds Eclectic Family with Camping, Wine Interests– to Dabble in News, is an eye opener. Go read it; one thing is mentions is that the APG Media Groups are Maryland LLCs.
APG Media of Minnesota LLC and APG Media of Southern Minnesota LLC are "foreign" (meaning formed and headquartered in Maryland) limited liability corporations in good standing with the Minnesota Secretary of State's business filing system.
Truth and consequences?
Does the relatively new owners' conservative bent influence the coverage in the three groups of acquired papers themselves? Given the legendary heavy hand of the conservative Huckle family on the southern Minnesota papers--and Hanna's axe-grinding that's as certain as the northern snows, we're not sure how anyone could tell.
As is the practice at the Fargo Forum chain, the corporate editor board for ECM Publishing has done much of the endorsement of statewide and federal candidates and causes. Many of those endorsements went to Republican candidates. A notable exception was endorsing both incumbent Rick Nolan and challenger Stewart Mills III in 2014, after endorsing Cravaack over Nolan in 2012. The board reverted to form this year in endorsing Mills over Nolan.
We'll keep our eye open for more Minnesota media ownership fun. In the meantime, we recommend Gannett’s newsroom cuts slash at St. Cloud’s heart, Bob Collins' post about the gutting of the news staff at the St. Cloud Times.
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