Publisher ECM plans to buy Sun Newspapers

  • Article by: DAVID PHELPS , Star Tribune
  • Updated: December 19, 2011 - 9:11 PM

ECM, founded by former Gov. Elmer L. Andersen, hopes to close the deal for the Sun weeklies by year-end.

ECM Publishers, the Coon Rapids-based media company founded by former Minnesota Gov. Elmer L. Andersen, announced Monday that it is in discussions with Dallas-based American Community Newspapers II to acquire its Minnesota Sun newspapers and shoppers.

Terms of the deal still are being negotiated. ECM president Marge Winkelman said she hoped there would be a signed agreement by the end of the year.

If completed, the transaction would more than double ECM's reach in the Twin Cities and central Minnesota regions where it currently has publications.

ECM, with 15 newspapers and six shoppers, has a weekly circulation of 155,000 and 191,000 respectively. The Sun Group publishes 32 newspapers and two shoppers with weekly circulation of 357,000 and 38,000 respectively.

"ECM is always looking for ways to grow as an information company," said Winkelman in a statement. "Opportunities of this magnitude rarely happen and ECM is looking forward to working with all the associates at the Sun Newspaper Group."

ECM was founded in 1976 when Andersen purchased competing weekly newspapers in Princeton, Minn., and combined them into the Princeton Union Eagle. ECM subsequently added a commercial printing plant and acquired a delivery company as it purchased additional newspapers.

There was no immediate indication if employee headcount would be affected either by economies of scale or circulation overlap. ECM, with a commercial printing plant and delivery fleet, employs 385. The Sun newspapers employ 135.

"That's a nice combined number," Winkelman said.

J. Keith Moyer, senior fellow at the University of Minnesota's School of Journalism and Mass Communication, said the transaction is particularly favorable for Sun customers.

"This purchase seems like a positive for readers and advertisers of the Sun Newspapers. ACN has been struggling for some time now and ECM, by all appearances, is much more solidly positioned to keep those papers publishing," Moyer said in an interview Monday.

The ECM family of newspapers range from the Caledonia Argus in southeastern Minnesota to the Coon Rapids Herald and the Morrison County Record.

The Sun Group has newspapers across the Twin Cities from Wayzata to Afton. Winkelman said it "is not our intention today" to change the names of the Sun newspapers. The only overlap, she said, is in Dakota County and the Blaine-Spring Lake Park area.

The Sun's parent organization, American Community Newspapers, struggled financially in recent years and filed for bankruptcy protection in 2009.

David Phelps • 612-673-7269

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