“The smalltown community newspaper industry is dead.” Businessman J. Louis “Louie” Mullen has heard that phrase almost his entire life — and he’s never believed it. In fact, in the past few years, he has been buying small newspapers across the nation because he’s optimistic about the future of small community newspapers. “I am very […]
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“The smalltown community newspaper industry is dead.”
Businessman J. Louis “Louie” Mullen has heard that phrase almost his entire life — and he’s never believed it. In fact, in the past few years, he has been buying small newspapers across the nation because he’s optimistic about the future of small community newspapers.
“I am very optimistic. I wouldn’t take on the debt service and my bankers wouldn’t lend me money if we weren’t bullish on the industry,” Mr. Mullen recently told the QCBJ.
He now owns six newspapers in Iowa, which are part of a total of 32 newspapers he owns in six U.S. states. In addition to his recent purchases, his other Iowa papers include the Harlan Tribune, Red Oak Express and Glenwood Opinion-Tribune, all three in southwest Iowa.
During an interview with the QCBJ, Mr. Mullen said he is buying newspapers because he is a fan of the community newspapers, the specific papers he buys makes good business sense and all those stories about the death of smalltown newspapers simply are not true.
“The community newspaper has been vastly undervalued. … The idea that newspapers are dying has been around since radio started,” he added.
In fact, many of Mr. Mullen’s small newspapers are thriving — not dying. He said that circulation has increased at most of his papers because they all have a good business plan, and they all have a philosophy that has served small community papers for many years — they are “hyper local” in their coverage of news.
That philosophy of keeping the news coverage strictly local has been key for the small newspapers in modern times. It not only keeps the publications relevant, but they cover news that even social media outlets — such as Facebook — do not cover, he added.
He added that his decision to buy the three eastern Iowa newspapers from Bill and Linda Tubbs, of Eldridge, was partially due to the newspapers’ location coverage, and remembering his Iowa roots.
“Bill and Linda Tubbs have done a phenomenal job as caretakers of their community newspapers. Their dedication to excellence and my own affinity to Iowa drew me there. My childhood was in Sioux City, where my first job at 4 years old was a paper route every morning,” Mr. Mullen said. (In fact, on his LinkedIn, he describes himself this way: “I’m a paperboy by trade, fell into a few construction companies and some real estate on the way.”)
In addition to his Iowa publications, he also owns weekly newspapers in Wyoming, North Dakota, South Dakota, Washington, Idaho, Oregon and Michigan.
“They are great publications, some of the best in the nation in weekly newspapers,” he said.
Some of his latest acquisitions include:
On Sept. 9, it was announced that he bought the Gladwin County Record and Beaverton Record in Michigan from the Adams Publishing Group. “It’s my goal to give the community a newspaper that reflects your town,” Mr. Mullen said in a statement at the time. “A strong and independent voice in the newspaper industry is necessary to continue to provide local and original coverage.”
He bought the Cody Enterprise newspaper in Wyoming this past spring.
In April, he bought The Gillette News Record of Gillette, Wyoming.
This summer, he acquired The Lennox Independent and Tea Weekly in southeastern South Dakota from Independent Publishing, LLC.
In 2019, he purchased the operations of the West River Eagle of Eagle Butte, the Mobridge Tribune, the Monday Reminder and the Potter County News of Gettysburg, all in South Dakota, from Larry and Roberta Atkinson of Mobridge, South Dakota.
“Every newspaper is run as an individual but they span from the Leelanau Enterprise in Michigan to the Nugget in Sisters, Oregon, and a number of places in-between,” he added.
In addition to owning local newspapers, Mr. Mullen has several other business interests. “I have interest in a number of commercial real estate properties as well as a nice little coffee shop, a bookkeeping company and some industrial dirt moving equipment. The lion’s share of my business is the community newspaper industry,” he said.
As for the future, Mr. Mullen is keeping the door open to more newspaper purchases. However, he doesn’t have a goal or limit in mind for the number of publications he wants to own.
“I imagine there will come a time when I hit my limit. That’s not today,” he added.
Mr. Mullen lives in Buffalo, Wyoming, with his wife, Dr. Lisa Mullen, and their two daughters. He is part of a second-generation newspaper family. Both of Mr. Mullen’s parents are involved in newspapers, and his two brothers also own newspapers.