Skip to main content
The Globe and Mail
Get full access to globeandmail.com
Support quality journalism
Just $1.99 per week for the first 24 weeks
Just $1.99 per week for the first 24 weeks
The Globe and Mail
Support quality journalism
Get full access to globeandmail.com
Globe and Mail website displayed on various devices
Just$1.99
per week
for the first 24 weeks

var select={root:".js-sub-pencil",control:".js-sub-pencil-control",open:"o-sub-pencil--open",closed:"o-sub-pencil--closed"},dom={},allowExpand=!0;function pencilInit(o){var e=arguments.length>1&&void 0!==arguments[1]&&arguments[1];select.root=o,dom.root=document.querySelector(select.root),dom.root&&(dom.control=document.querySelector(select.control),dom.control.addEventListener("click",onToggleClicked),setPanelState(e),window.addEventListener("scroll",onWindowScroll),dom.root.removeAttribute("hidden"))}function isPanelOpen(){return dom.root.classList.contains(select.open)}function setPanelState(o){dom.root.classList[o?"add":"remove"](select.open),dom.root.classList[o?"remove":"add"](select.closed),dom.control.setAttribute("aria-expanded",o)}function onToggleClicked(){var l=!isPanelOpen();setPanelState(l)}function onWindowScroll(){console.log("scroll");var l=isPanelOpen(),n=0===(document.body.scrollTop||document.documentElement.scrollTop);n||l||!allowExpand?n&&l&&(allowExpand=!0,setPanelState(!1)):(allowExpand=!1,setPanelState(!0))}pencilInit(".js-sub-pencil",!1);

Warren Buffett speaks at the annual Berkshire Hathaway shareholders meeting in Omaha, Neb., on May 5, 2019.

The Associated Press

Warren Buffett’s Berkshire Hathaway Inc agreed to sell its newspaper business to Lee Enterprises Inc for $140 million in cash, abandoning an industry the billionaire investor had long defended even as its financial prospects deteriorated.

The transaction includes 31 daily newspapers and 49 weeklies including the daily Omaha World-Herald in Berkshire’s hometown in Nebraska, Buffalo News in New York, Richmond Times-Dispatch in Virginia and Tulsa World in Oklahoma.

Lee owns 50 daily newspapers including the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, and has since July 2018 managed Berkshire’s papers other than the Buffalo News, which Berkshire bought in 1977.

Story continues below advertisement

As part of the transaction, Berkshire will also become Lee’s sole lender, refinancing the Davenport, Iowa-based company’s existing debt and lending $576 million at a 9 per cent interest rate.

A closing is expected in mid-March. Lee shares more than doubled in early trading on Wednesday and were last up 67 percent at $2.10.

Berkshire has more than 90 operating businesses such as the BNSF railroad and Geico auto insurer, and bought most of its newspapers in the last decade.

While newspapers are a small part of the conglomerate, it nonetheless remains unusual for Buffett, who delivered newspapers as a teenager, to sell an entire operating business.

Berkshire did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

Buffett tells shareholders on Berkshire’s website that he has “no interest at all” in selling good businesses, and is “very reluctant to sell sub-par businesses” expected to generate cash, be run well and have good labor relations.

But he has lamented the newspaper industry’s decline, as the Internet deprives traditional newspapers of revenue streams.

Story continues below advertisement

He told Yahoo Finance last April that the industry was “toast,” and told Berkshire shareholders in May 2018 that only the Wall Street Journal, the New York Times and perhaps the Washington Post had digital models strong enough to offset declining print circulation and ad revenue.

Buffett invested in the Washington Post’s former publisher for four decades and sat on its board, and was a confidant of one-time chief executive Katharine Graham.

Employment in Berkshire’s newspaper units fell 23 per cent to 3,685 at the end of 2018 from 4,761 three years earlier.

The World-Herald was not spared. Dozens of jobs have been eliminated, including nearly all its business reporters, and the newspaper no longer covers Berkshire frequently. Journalists there voted to unionize in October 2018.

In a statement, Buffett said Berkshire had “zero interest” in selling to anyone other than Lee.

“No organization is more committed to serving the vital role of high-quality local news, however delivered, as Lee,” he said.

Report an error
Tickers mentioned in this story
Due to technical reasons, we have temporarily removed commenting from our articles. We hope to have this fixed soon. Thank you for your patience. If you are looking to give feedback on our new site, please send it along to feedback@globeandmail.com. If you want to write a letter to the editor, please forward to letters@globeandmail.com.

Welcome to The Globe and Mail’s comment community. This is a space where subscribers can engage with each other and Globe staff. Non-subscribers can read and sort comments but will not be able to engage with them in any way. Click here to subscribe.

If you would like to write a letter to the editor, please forward it to letters@globeandmail.com. Readers can also interact with The Globe on Facebook and Twitter .

Welcome to The Globe and Mail’s comment community. This is a space where subscribers can engage with each other and Globe staff. Non-subscribers can read and sort comments but will not be able to engage with them in any way. Click here to subscribe.

If you would like to write a letter to the editor, please forward it to letters@globeandmail.com. Readers can also interact with The Globe on Facebook and Twitter .

Welcome to The Globe and Mail’s comment community. This is a space where subscribers can engage with each other and Globe staff.

We aim to create a safe and valuable space for discussion and debate. That means:

  • Treat others as you wish to be treated
  • Criticize ideas, not people
  • Stay on topic
  • Avoid the use of toxic and offensive language
  • Flag bad behaviour

Comments that violate our community guidelines will be removed.

Read our community guidelines here

Discussion loading ...

To view this site properly, enable cookies in your browser. Read our privacy policy to learn more.
How to enable cookies