Investor Buffett to ‘rule’ 63 newspapers

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Mr. Buffett “believes that in medium and small markets, newspapers still have an important role, and I think that is true,” Mr. Fratrik said.

But other media analysts wonder whether Mr. Buffett for once is investing with his heart instead of his head. Laura Martin, senior media analyst at Needham & Co., suggested Mr. Buffett may have a soft spot for newspapers.

“It may be that some of his motivations are not perfectly economic,” she said. “He’s the smartest investor of all time. But this is a non-consensus investment that he’s making right now.”

The all-cash deal is expected to close by the end of next month. A new Berkshire Hathaway unit called BH Media Group will be created to oversee the company’s media properties.

Despite Mr. Buffett’s enthusiasm, Ms. Martin said most of Wall Street has lost confidence in the newspaper industry.

“I think Wall Street generally thinks that newspapers are giving way to blogs and Twitter and will have a less relevant position in the media marketplace in the future even than they do now,” she said.

Then again, most of Wall Street does not include Warren Buffett. Mr. Fratrik said newspapers aren’t going anywhere.

“I think it’s an interesting move,” Mr. Fratrik said. “I do believe newspapers will be around. They are not the media player they once were, but they still do have a presence. Even if Warren Buffett didn’t invest in them, I think newspapers would still be around.”

Mr. Fratrik and other analysts contend that the newspaper industry’s future will be determined by how well existing franchises adapt to the economics of the digital world.

“In many of these situations, the newspapers can be effective and competitive going forward in the new media marketplace,” he said.

He suggested this transition is already happening. “Newspapers got out a little ahead of radio and television stations moving to online,” Mr. Fratrik said.

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