January 14, 2019

Sentinel & Enterprise owner making play for USA Today company

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The Sentinel & Enterprise offices on Main Street in downtown Fitchburg were shut down by the paper's parent company last February.

Digital First Media, the owner of daily newspapers in Fitchburg, Lowell and Boston, has made an offer to buy USA Today publisher Gannett, The Wall Street Journal reported Sunday.

The move, if completed, would put one of the country's largest daily publications in the same hands as Fitchburg's Sentinel & Enterprise, along with the Lowell Sun, Boston Herald and roughly 200 other publications.

Digital First Media is offering $12 a share for Gannett, a 23-percent premium over Friday's closing price of $9.75, The Wall Street Journal reported. Digital First, which is based in Colorado, already has a 7.5-percent stake in Virginia-based Gannett.

Gannett publishes USA Today and other daily publications across the country, from the Arizona Republic to the Burlington Free Press in Vermont.

Newspapers have struggled with declining revenue under both Gannett and Digital First Media, with both owners instituting cuts.

In Fitchburg, the Sentinel & Enterprise closed its longtime offices last February, leaving its shrinking staff to work remotely. The newspaper's editor, Cliff Clark, later paid out of his pocket for a small office for the staff.

That move came just three months after its previous editor, Charles St. Amand, was laid off. The newspaper is now overseen by editors at the Lowell Sun. The Sentinel & Enterprise also outsourced its printing operations in 2017, from Devens to Portsmouth, N.H.

Cost-cutting has enabled Digital First Media to stay profitable despite shrinking subscription numbers.

The Sentinel & Entperise, the Lowell Sun and a related weekly, the Nashoba Valley Voice, earned a $5-million profit and a 26-percent profit margin in the 2017 budget year, according to the Harvard University-affiliated Neiman Lab.

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