The Gannett Co. said Tuesday that it planned to spin off its print operations, including USA Today, becoming the latest media company to break itself up.
Gannett also confirmed that it would buy out the 73 percent of the auto sales website Cars.com that it does not already own for $1.8 billion, adding another digital asset to its portfolio.
The separation follows in the footsteps of many other media companies — from Rupert Murdoch’s empire to Time Warner Inc. to E.W. Scripps — that have spun off their print arms in recent years.
Such transactions are intended to free faster-growing television and other media operations from less profitable newspaper and magazine businesses. Executives hope that these deals increase stock prices and allow each division to focus on its own needs.
The Gannett deal starts its newspapers on a better footing than some of its rivals since it will have no debt. That is far less than the $2 billion cash cushion Murdoch’s News Corp. gave to its print edition before its spinoff. But it is far better than the $1.3 billion in debt that Time Inc. started with when it was spun off in June, and the $350 million in debt that Tribune’s publishing company will have when it begins trading on the New York Stock Exchange on Tuesday.
Gracia C. Martore, Gannett’s chief executive, said in a conference call that the publishing division was starting from a strong position. She said it was open now to take advantage of acquisitions that in the past were considered unworkable.
“It has been difficult for us to look at certain acquisition opportunities,” Martore said of the existing structure. “We now have two companies that are unfettered.”
Gannett said its broadcasting and digital company, which has yet to be named, would be the biggest independent group of television stations in the top 25 markets, with 46 stations that it will own or service.
It will also own Gannett’s digital operations, including CareerBuilder, the online job-search website.
The broadcasting and digital company will be led by Martore.
The publishing business, which will keep the Gannett name, will own 81 daily newspapers and the British news company Newsquest.