Warren Buffett Exits the Media Owner World, Selling BH Media Group

This comes as we see more billionaires buying up newspapers and publications

warren buffet surrounded by stacks of newspapers
Warren Buffet announced today that he will sell his media collection to Lee Enterprises. Getty Images
Headshot of Sara Jerde

The media industry has seen big investments from billionaires who have taken on newspapers and magazines in recent years. But amid this, Warren Buffett is shedding the responsibility.

Berkshire Hathaway, Buffett’s holding company, announced today that it would sell BH Media Group, BHMG, and its collection of 30 daily newspapers to Lee Enterprises, a publicly traded media company, for $140 million in cash.

“I am confident that our newspapers will be in the right hands going forward, and I also am pleased to be deepening our long-term relationship with Lee through the financing agreement,” Buffett said in a statement.

The news comes amid a troubling time for publishers, particularly local ones, that are left to reckon with a decline in print advertising that has not yet been made up for in digital advertising. That competition for digital ad dollars is pitting publishers against technology companies that have the infrastructure and reach to attract those investments and the resources to pivot and lead innovation in a changing digital landscape.

It has left publishers to make tough decisions about where investments should be made and, oftentimes, those calls lead to widespread layoffs, including today at BBC News, which announced it was eliminating 450 jobs and centralizing coverage.

In the U.S., the media industry has seen billionaires step in like Marc and Lynne Benioff, who bought Time magazine from Meredith in 2018; Jeff Bezos, who purchased The Washington Post in 2013; Laurene Powell Jobs, who acquired a majority stake of The Atlantic through Emerson Collective in 2017; and Patrick Soon-Shiong, who finalized his purchase of the Los Angeles Times last year.

Experts are quick to add, though, that billionaires often take on owning media organizations for nostalgic purposes or because of the value in taking on a publication to associate with their personal brands as being a charitable person that gives back to companies. They’re not seen as being taken on because of the ability to turn a profit.

Berkshire Hathaway is unloading titles like The Press of Atlantic City in New Jersey, The Buffalo News in New York and the Omaha World-Herald, once of particular importance to Buffett who was born and still lives in Omaha.

The newsroom of the World-Herald, which recently moved to unionize, tweeted its dismay over the decision: “Make no mistake, Lee is short for lousy,” it said alongside a picture of a homemade poster board that read, “Buffett blew it.”

@SaraJerde sara.jerde@adweek.com Sara Jerde is publishing editor at Adweek, where she covers traditional and digital publishers’ business models. She also oversees political coverage ahead of the 2020 election.