Austin American-Statesman up for sale

The owners of the Austin American-Statesman are selling the paper, a growing trend in the industry over the past few decades.

AUSTIN - Cox Media Group Inc. told the staff at the Austin American-Statesman Tuesday that the newspaper and seven affiliated local publications are up for sale.

The more than 200 employees learned of the news Tuesday morning. 

"I have to say I remain, and was then, and remain so impressed with the people I worked with who were really very committed journalists," explained Jena Heath, a former Statesman staffer who now teaches journalism and digital media at St. Edward's University. 

During her five-year stint with the paper, Heath covered the 2000 election and the White House, before transitioning to an editorial role, where she encountered some of the challenges newspapers across the country are now facing. 

"Not replacing positions, not doing as much hiring as we'd like to do," said Heath. 

According to the Austin Business Journal, Cox Enterprises Inc. put the Statesman up for sale in August 2008, but pulled it off the market one year later. Cox Enterprises bought the Statesman in 1976.

"The question is, 'will it go this time,'" Heath said. "If it doesn't go this time, what is Cox planning to do?"

Across the country, newspapers have dealt with cutbacks in staffing, funding and circulation. 

Pew Research Center estimated that daily circulation has dropped by about 45 percent since 1990, while advertising revenues have fallen by more than 50 percent over the past decade. 

"Many journalists have lost their jobs. I hope that my former colleagues don't find themselves in that situation. They're very talented people," said Heath. 

While Heath complimented the work of local television stations and online outlets, specifically The Texas Tribune, she credits newspapers like the Statesman for their in-depth reporting, specifically with local politics. 

"I don't think all is lost, but I think times are changing, and that's always sad," said Heath.

To combat falling circulations, newspapers have poured more resources into their digital platforms, where they have seen an uptick in site visits. Some newspapers have instituted paywalls after a certain number of articles. 

"I think this is a time of exploration and experimentation, and the industry is trying to find its way," Heath said. 

While mid-size regional newspapers have felt much of the pressure, larger-scale publications such as the New York Daily News and Washington Post have been sold in recent years. Heath spoke highly of the work done at the Washington Post recently, following the sale. 

"I think the larger question for us generally, and in Austin really, is 'are we really willing to let journalism go?' Have we really thought about what that means, to lose the people who tell us what's going on in our communities, and who are really committed to confronting the powerful and asking difficult questions," Heath said. 

Statesman Publisher Susie Gray Biehle released the following statement:

“While we are all sad to be leaving the Cox family, I am optimistic about the future for the Statesman because of the strength of our brand, the quality of the journalism we do every day, and the talent and engagement of the entire Statesman team.”

Cox Media Group also announced plans to sell the Palm Beach Post and Palm Beach Daily News, two newspapers in Florida, as part of Tuesday morning's announcement.

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