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Forbes Newspapers, Inc., to Sell..

By PAUL J. PEYTON for The Westfield Leader and The Times

Announced last week, it has reached agreement to sell its entire weekly newspaper chain to Paramus-based North Jersey Newspapers, an affiliate of Colorado-based MediaNews Group, Inc. The deal includes Forbes’ Union County papers which are The Westfield Record, The Cranford Chronicle, and The Scotch Plains-Fanwood Press. The proposed sale price was not disclosed.

If the deal is completed the Forbes papers would expand North Jersey’s coverage area to Somerset and Middlesex Counties while adding to its publications in Union County, which already include the Suburban News as well as papers in New Providence and Summit.

If the acquisition is finalized, the Forbes acquisition would increase MediaNews’ holdings to 136 newspapers in 11 states. The company, which signed a letter of intent to purchase the Forbes papers, has 60 days to review the chain’s financial books and its operations. Forbes’ Union County papers are based in Cranford.

The other weeklies in the deal are the Bound Brook Chronicle, Franklin Focus; The Journal, serving Green Brook and North Plainfield; The Hills-Bedminster Press; the Buyers Guide in Somerset County; the Somerset Messenger-Gazette, The Journal of Warren and Watchung, Highland Park Herald, and The Review of Metuchen and Edison.

Forbes spokeswoman, Elizabeth Ames, said Forbes’ total circulation is in excess of 86,000. The Messenger-Gazette is the flagship paper in the chain with a circulation of approximately 8,200 paid subscribers. The Cranford Chronicle, founded around 1888, has some 6,200 paid subscribers; The Record has approximately 400 paid subscribers with The Press circulation of approximately 2,300.

MediaNews currently operates daily and weekly papers in Bergen, Passaic, Union and Warren Counties under its New Jersey subsidiary, North Jersey Newspapers Company. Its total weekly newspapers circulation (including shoppers) is 600,000. Its three New Jersey daily publications have a combined circulation of 120,000, according to a press statement issued by Forbes, Inc.

According to the New Jersey Press Association’s 1996 Membership Directory, North Jersey’s total paid circulation was 55,069 (which includes 13 papers) with about half that figure (26,550) coming from its Suburban Trends publication, based in Butler, which circulates in over a dozen communities in Passaic County. Its non-paid publications (including shoppers) had a total circulation of 403,900. The Suburban News, based in Clark, is distributed to some 53,500 households in 16 towns.

MediaNews also operates among its holdings. The Denver Post, which has a daily circulation of 334,436 and a Sunday edition with a circulation of 461,837, the largest daily in Colorado. Nationally, MediaNews weeklies have a circulation of 1.5 million while the dailies’ combined circulation is 1.2 million. The North Jersey Newspapers affiliate, however, currently is run separately from the parent company.

Its Union County papers include the Suburban News, a free shopper which is delivered to homes throughout a 15-town radius including Westfield, Scotch Plains and Fanwood. MediaNews purchased the Suburban News along with the Independent Press of New Providence and Berkeley Heights, and the Summit Herald (a weekly paper), in 1990, according to Richard Vezza of Westfield, North Jersey Newspapers President and Chief Operating Officer.

Mr. Vezza said MediaGroup’s most recent purchase was Press Publications, a group of five weeklies in Warren County. North Jersey also operates Today Newspapers, which circulates in Passaic County and includes, among others, the Wayne Today and the Dateline Journal, (a free publication). Among its Bergen County papers is The Ridgewood News, established in 1889.

North Jersey also operates three dailies in New Jersey, The North Jersey Herald News in Passaic, The Gloucester County Times, and Today’s Sunbeam in Salem (Sussex County). North Jersey employs a staff of 550 full-timers and 200 part-timers.

Mr. Vezza said that although North Jersey plans to make changes to the Forbes publications, he said it was too early to tell what those might be other than saying the company is committed to local coverage.

"We really are local weeklies," he said in describing the type of papers North Jersey operates.

Forbes got into the weekly newspaper business in 1987 with the purchase of Somerset Press, Inc., which includes the Bound Brook Chronicle, The Chronicle of Middlesex and Dunellen, The Review of Metuchen and Edison, and the Somerset Messenger-Gazette.

Ms. Ames said Forbes Inc. has decided sell off its newspaper interests in order to concentrate on its core business of magazines. Forbes magazine will mark its 80th anniversary later this year. Over the past few years the company has started several new publications including, a lifestyle supplement, Forbes FYI; a technology supplement, Forbes ASAP, a Japanese language supplement and most recently, the Gilder Technology Report.

Although Forbes Newspapers has revenues of $4 million, the firm had been losing money in recent months.

Several buyers were said to be interested in at least part or all of the weeklies. Among them were Worrall Community Newspapers, which operates papers in Essex and Union Counties; Recorder Publishing, which operates a dozen weeklies in Hunterdon, Morris and Somerset Counties, and The Princeton Packet, Inc., which has established weeklies in four counties.

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