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Adams Publishing Group, the privately held national newspaper chain that owns the Bozeman Daily Chronicle, announced Monday it is purchasing the 13 small-town Montana newspapers of the Yellowstone Newspapers chain.

The papers being purchased by Adams, which is based in Minneapolis, are the Livingston Enterprise, the Miles City Star, the Glendive Ranger-Review, the Lewistown News-Argus, the Dillon Tribune, the Big Timber Pioneer, the Laurel Outlook, the Carbon County News, the Big Horn County News, the Stillwater County News, the Terry Tribune, the [Forsyth] Independent Press and the Judith Basin Press. 

Neither Adams Regional President Mark Dobie, the Daily Chronicle’s publisher, nor a contact listed on the Adams website immediately returned calls Monday afternoon asking whether the company plans to maintain staffing at the Yellowstone papers at current levels. According to an announcement story posted to the Daily Chronicle website, the sale is set to be finalized Nov. 1.

“We would like to thank John Sullivan and his team for their fine stewardship of those newspapers over the years,” Adams President and CEO Mark Adams said in the announcement story. “APG is excited to work with the Yellowstone media operations in Montana. This opportunity is a great strategic fit with our Big Sky region based in Bozeman, and we look forward to providing that region with greater regional and local community journalism as well as a larger advertiser audience.” 

Yellowstone Newspapers, which dates its 57-year history to its 1965 purchase of the Miles City Star, has for years been the state’s largest Montana-owned newspaper group.

“After over half a century of shepherding these Montana community papers, it’s time we turned their care and feeding to a new outfit,” Yellowstone Newspapers President John Sullivan said in the announcement. “We are confident Mark Adams and his new organization will take good care of our papers and our communities.” 

University of Montana Journalism Director Lee Banville said the purchase fits into a consolidation trend that has become common business practice in the newspaper industry over the past decade as owners attempt to cope with readers and advertisers shifting their attention and advertising dollars to digital media. Companies are often looking to piece together regional networks that save money by centralizing printing or page layout work, he said.

That’s a strategy that may be able to help newspapers, especially comparatively shoe-string operations serving smaller towns, keep their businesses sustainable.

“They’re not printing money like the big papers used to in the old days,” Banville said.

Even so, he said, residents should keep an eye on whether the companies also try to consolidate newsrooms. It’s one thing, he said, to have a newspaper where the physical product is trucked in from the next town over and another to lose resident reporters who know their communities, neighbors and local businesses. 

“That’s the big question: Do we end up moving toward reporters reporting remotely about communities?” Banville said.

While some of Montana’s smaller newspapers remain in family or small chain ownership, most of the state’s large newspapers are managed by out-of-state ownership. Kalispell’s Daily Inter Lake is owned by the Idaho-based Hagadone Corporation and the Great Falls Tribune is owned by Gannett, a publicly traded chain headquartered in Virginia. The Billings Gazette, Missoulian, [Helena] Independent-Record and [Butte] Montana Standard are owned by Lee Enterprises, a publicly traded company based in Iowa.

Earlier this year, longtime Hi-Line newspaper owners Brian and LeAnne Kavanagh sold their chain to Ponderosa Publications, affiliated with the Deer Lodge-based Mullen Newspaper Company. The papers that changed hands as part of that sale were the Shelby Promoter, the Cut Bank Pioneer Press, the [Browning] Glacier Reporter and the Valierian. Mullen Newspaper Company also manages the Silver State Post in Deer Lodge, Philipsburg Mail, and Stevensville-based Bitterroot Star. In August, Ponderosa Publications also purchased the Seeley Swan Pathfinder. One of Ponderosa’s  co-owners, Jesse Mullen, is currently running for the Montana Senate as a Democrat.

According to its website, Adams Publishing Group has been acquiring newspapers since 2014 and currently operates 27 daily and 90 non-daily publications in 19 states. It purchased the chain that includes the Bozeman Daily Chronicle and sister paper Belgrade News in 2017.

Citing poor pay and rising cost of living in Bozeman, the Chronicle’s eight non-management newsroom employees voted to unionize earlier this year. Their Yellowstone News Guild referenced those concerns in a statement Monday, indicating the company still hasn’t returned Daily Chronicle staff to 40-hour work weeks from a partial furlough implemented in 2020 during the early stages of the COVID-19 pandemic.

“We hope this is a real commitment by @PublishingAdams to invest in Montana’s local news,” the staff union wrote on Twitter. “To do so, Adams will have to invest in its reporters and pay them a fair wage — a standard Adams is not yet meeting @bozchron.”

The announcement story says the purchase will include Yellowstone’s commercial printing operations, but exclude the group’s Miles City radio station, KATL, as well as Star Printing Co. and Office Supply.

Disclosure: MTFP Reporter Eric Dietrich worked at the Bozeman Daily Chronicle from 2013 to 2017.

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This story is published by Montana Free Press as part of the Long Streets Project, which explores Montana’s economy with in-depth reporting. This work is supported in part by a grant from the Greater Montana Foundation, which encourages communication on issues, trends, and values of importance to Montanans. Discuss MTFP’s Long Streets work with Lead Reporter Eric Dietrich at edietrich@montanafreepress.org.

Eric DietrichDeputy Editor

Eric came to journalism in a roundabout way after studying engineering at Montana State University in Bozeman (credit, or blame, for his career direction rests with the campus's student newspaper, the Exponent). He has worked as a professional journalist in Montana since 2013, with stints at the Great Falls Tribune, Bozeman Daily Chronicle, and Solutions Journalism Network before joining the Montana Free Press newsroom in Helena full time in 2019.