Former AAN Paper Bought By Gannett

Second ownership change in two years for Times of Acadiana.

As part of an enormous corporate buyout, Gannett Co. announced Thursday that it had agreed to acquire several publications owned by Thomson Corp., including former AAN paper Times of Acadiana. The Lafayette, La.-based alternative weekly declined to renew its membership after its 1998 sale to Thomson.

Gannett, headquartered in Arlington, Va., is an international news and information company that publishes 74 daily newspapers in the U.S., including USA TODAY, the nation’s largest-selling daily.

In total, Gannett agreed to acquire from Thomson 21 daily newspapers and dozens of weeklies and niche publications, for an aggregate purchase price of $1.125 billion. In addition to Times of Acadiana, Gannett’s haul includes all of Thomson’s properties in Lafayette, including the Daily Advertiser, a shopper, a tourist guide and a business journal.

Thomson bought the Times of Acadiana and the shopper from founder Stephen May and his wife Cherry Fisher May in Sept. 1998 for $14.9 million. Cherry May said Monday she believes Gannett will do a good job with the daily paper, but has doubts regarding its commitment to the other publications.

“Gannett operates really, really well in small- to medium-size cities,” she said. “My feeling is that Gannett may turn around and try to sell The Times. My suspicion is that they won’t keep the whole group together.”

She added that her husband, who founded the paper in 1980, does not agree with her assessment. Another source familiar with the buyout said dissolving the Lafayette publishing group is unlikely.

The Mays have their hands in several projects now, including two sports-oriented magazines in Atlanta. Although Cherry May would not rule out the prospect of repurchasing the Times if Gannett decided to sell the paper, she said it was unlikely.

“Our plate is full right now,” she said.

One former Times’ employee said the sale to Gannett was less disconcerting than Thomson’s acquisition in 1998, which took the paper out of the hands of independent owners.

“I have serious doubts about Gannett’s ability, or the ability of any daily newspaper company, to run a real alternative paper, but that’s more of a general concern,” said Harris Meyer, former Times editor. “And no matter who the owner is, having the alternative and the local daily owned by the same company defeats the whole idea of an alternative newspaper that can freely comment on the media and other issues.”

Meyer, who now works for a legal business monthly about Florida lawyers, quit the Times shortly after it was bought by Thomson.

Beth Ardoin, publisher of the Times, declined to comment about the announcement until the deal is finalized. However, she did say that it was an exciting time at her paper and addressed her readers regarding Gannett’s anticipated arrival.

“The community seems to be keeping a closer eye on us with the pending sale,” Ardoin wrote in her weekly column . “As I promised, business as usual is a priority.”

The deal, which must be approved by the government in light of anti-trust concerns, is expected to close in the third quarter of 2000, according to a press statement released by Gannett.

Toronto-based Thomson announced in February that it would sell all of its newspapers except its flagship Canadian daily, The Globe and Mail, in order to focus on its electronic publishing business. In addition to the Gannett deal, Thomson has already agreed to sell 17 dailies to Community Newspaper Holdings, Inc., five to Media General Inc. and one to the Copley Press, Inc.