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How Warren Buffett thinks about Berkshire’s newspaper holdings

At Berkshire Hathaway’s annual shareholder meeting, the Oracle of Omaha Warren Buffett shared a dismal outlook on print media.

Noting steep declines in circulation and advertising revenue, Buffett expressed surprise that the decline “has not moderated.” He identified the Wall Street Journal, New York Times, and Washington Post as the only outlets to demonstrate long-term viability through digital revenue, citing the rest of the industry’s “lack of success” at digital as the main reason for print’s likely doom.

BH Media got its start with a $200m acquisition of the Omaha World-Herald, boosted its holdings by grabbing Media General’s properties, and has since expanded to a total of 32 outlets and a central publishing services company.

Flagship BH Media property has begun experimenting with membership through its Subscriber Plus program, which includes benefits like:

  • Free 5×7 print
  • 50% off classifieds
  • Discounted subscriptions to company’s other Nebraska papers
  • Fewer ads/faster pages
  • Deals/offers
  • Some exclusive content

Buffet is said not to have any operational role in the papers, which are managed locally. BH Media is run by Terry Kroeger, formerly publisher of the Omaha World-Herald and a longtime employee of that company. Kroeger was just named head of the News Media Alliance.

It will be very interesting to see if Buffett’s tone on newspapers has shifted by next annual meeting when the results of the membership experiment come to post. This weekend Kroeger ran a column in the paper about the membership offering, striking a familiar chord for the modern newspaper publisher:

Terry Kroeger, Omaha World-Herald Publisher and Berkshire Hathaway Media Group President and CEO

For the majority of the nation’s thousand plus print papers, there couldn’t be more urgency to get this right. The next few years in newspaperland depend on it.

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