Lee Enterprises, owner of the Missoulian and four other Montana daily newspapers, is angling to buy another string of Western Montana weekly papers, as well as a Ronan-based printing plant and a statewide agricultural publication.
“We are talking,” confirms Carmine Mowbray, who with her husband, Todd, owns the Lake County Leader and Advertiser in Polson; the Clark Fork Valley Press in Plains; the Mineral Independent in Superior; and the Valier-based Prairie Star. The couple also owns the News Press printing plant in Ronan, which is also apparently on the auction block.
Mrs. Mowbray says, however, that no deals have been made, and she doesn’t expect any final decisions to be made until next year.
“It’s too early to say,” she says. “It’s not news yet.”
Lee has had a voracious appetite for Montana papers in 1999. In January, the Davenport, Iowa-based company announced it was purchasing the Hungry Horse News and the Whitefish Pilot. Those weeklies were then linked in a three-paper group with the Bigfork Eagle, which Lee bought from former editor and publisher Marc Wilson just two years earlier.
In May, Lee expanded its Montana holdings again by purchasing the Ravalli Republic, one of the state’s smallest daily papers. Along with the daily Missoulian, Lee owns the Billings Gazette, the Montana Standard in Butte, and the Independent Record in Helena. Among other holdings in Montana, the company owns advertising shoppers in Missoula, Deer Lodge, Great Falls Billings and Bozeman, as well as the Helena-based Montana magazine. Last month, Lee announced it had purchased Spokane Print and Mail, a Washington state web and sheet-feed company that operates two other classified publications, Smart Shopper and Driveline, an automotive sales magazine. Both publications serve Western Montana.
While rumors of an upcoming sale from the Mowbrays have been circulating for weeks, Lee spokesman Dan Hayes refused to confirm that a deal is in the works.
“We simply never, ever comment about speculation about possible acquisitions,” Hayes said. “That’s just a long-standing company policy.”
Across the nation, Lee owns more than 20 daily newspapers, about 75 weekly papers and shoppers, seven satellite stations and nine other network-affiliated television stations. In early November, Lee officials said they’d just completed another record quarter and year for profits.