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Duluth News Tribune sold to Forum Communications

DULUTH, Minn.—Workers at the Duluth News Tribune learned Wednesday afternoon they soon will have a new owner—Forum Communications Co.

The Fargo, N.D.-based company announced plans Wednesday to buy the News Tribune and its sister paper, the Grand Forks (N.D.) Herald, from the McClatchy Co. for an undisclosed price.

Addressing the News Tribune's employees for the first time Wednesday, Bill Marcil, Forum Communication's president and CEO, said: "We know you've been through a lot the past month to six weeks, and we sympathize. We've made a number of transactions, and it's always difficult on the employees. But now you can relax."

Marcil said he has no plans to cut staff and plans to invest in capital improvements to the paper. He said Forum will honor all existing union contracts.

McClatchy plans to immediately sell the News Tribune and 12 other newspapers, after completing its $6.5 billion buyout of Knight Ridder. That sale is expected to close by July.

Forum Communications publishes the Fargo Forum and 26 other small newspapers in Minnesota, Wisconsin and the Dakotas. It also has a smaller North Dakota broadcasting arm, consisting of three North Dakota television stations and a Fargo radio station.

The company's flagship newspaper, the Forum, reports circulation of 50,500 on weekdays and 60,200 on Sundays.

By comparison, the News Tribune sells an average of 41,500 newspapers on weekdays and 64,400 papers on Sundays.

In Minnesota, Forum owns four dailies: the Bemidji Pioneer, the Red Wing Republican, Willmar's West Central Tribune, and the Worthington Daily Globe. It also owns papers in Detroit Lakes, Farmington, Hastings, Lake Elmo, Morris, New York Mills, Park Rapids, Perham, Cottage Grove, Stillwater and Woodbury.

In addition to its media holdings, Forum Communications owns seven commercial printing operations, provides wireless broadband Internet access in the Fargo area and owns Interactive Media Group, which develops the company's Internet Web sites and services.

Following the transaction, Forum Communications will employ more than 2,000 people.

The News Tribune community newspaper group employs the equivalent of 289 full-time employees at present. The sale announced Wednesday includes the News Tribune, the Superior Daily Telegram, the Duluth Budgeteer News, the Pine Journal in Cloquet, the Lake County News-Chronicle in Two Harbors and some Manney's Shoppers.

Forum Communications has been in the Black family since 1917. Marcil married into the family.

The company's history goes back to 1878. It has been buying newspapers for more than a century and invested in its first broadcast outlet in 1935, WDAY radio in Fargo, which it still operates.

Marcil last visited the News Tribune and the Superior Daily Telegram on May 11. He first publicly expressed interest in buying the News Tribune, Grand Forks Herald in North Dakota and Aberdeen American News in South Dakota in March.

Executives from Newspaper Guild-backed Yucaipa and Birmingham, Ala.-based Community Newspaper Holdings Inc. also visited the News Tribune and were assumed to be bidders, as well.

Following the transactions, McClatchy will be left with 32 dailies in high-growth markets, including 20 from its acquisition of Knight Ridder. Duluth was one of a dozen papers McClatchy decided did not fit its growth-oriented business model.

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(c) 2006, Duluth News Tribune (Duluth, Minn.).

Visit the Web site of the News Tribune at http://www.duluthsuperior.com

Distributed by Knight Ridder/Tribune Information Services.

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