Brian Knox

Brian V. Knox

The Daily Jefferson County Union and its affiliated weekly newspapers of Hometown News Limited Partnership have been sold to Adams Publishing Group, Brian V. Knox, president of W.D. Hoard & Sons Co., announced Monday.

Adams Publishing Group is based in Minneapolis, Minn.

At the same time, publisher James M. Clifford announced the sale of the Watertown Daily Times and Dodge County Independent News to Adams Publishing Group.

“We are extremely excited to have the Daily Jefferson County Union, Hometown News and Watertown Daily Times community papers join our fast-growing publishing group,” Adams Publishing Group principal Stephen Adams said. “The communities they serve are exactly the types of communities that we look for as we build our company.”

The Daily Jefferson County Union and affiliated Hometown News Limited Partnership publish 13 community newspapers and shoppers, stretching across parts of six counties in south-central Wisconsin. Knox said all current management will stay in place.

“This does not change our production agreements or general staffing,” Knox said. “Readers and advertisers should not notice any changes in the newspaper. One of the reasons we chose Adams is that they do not come in and put their own people in charge.

“In addition, the Daily Union will continue to operate out of the Hoard building,” Knox said, adding that Adams Publishing might use additional space in the downtown location, as well.

Robb Grindstaff, general manager of the Daily Union and Hometown News, will continue in his leadership role with the newspapers.

“This is definitely a time for mixed emotions,” Grindstaff said. “I’m proud to have been a part of the Hoard legacy, and I’ve cherished the opportunity to have worked with Brian Knox for these past six years.

“There’s also excitement about the possibilities and the potential for our newspapers and how we can serve our communities in the years to come,” he added. “Adams Publishing is well known for their commitment to quality local journalism, just as the Hoard and Knox families have been for the past century-and-a-half.”

W.D. Hoard & Sons Co. will continue to operate its other businesses, including Hoard’s Dairyman, a magazine aimed at the dairy industry with worldwide distribution; other agricultural publications; Hoard’s Dairyman Farm; and the recently launched Hoard’s Dairyman Farm Creamery; among others.

Knox, who has served as publisher of the Daily Jefferson County Union since 1977, said that his family’s interests are refocusing on other sectors of the company.

“One-hundred-and-forty-eight years ago, this company was founded on community journalism,” Knox said. “When I became publisher, almost all of the daily papers in the state were independently owned, either as single papers or in small groups. Now there are fewer dailies and just a handful of independents left.”

He continued: One of the reasons for this is that in the 41 years I have been publisher, the industry has had to technologically reinvent the way we do business every three or four years to continue on.

“We have done this successfully and even our circulation numbers have fought the industry trend and grown the last few years,” he said. “ But the reality is that we’ve reached the point where we need to be much bigger to spread those costs and to take advantage of rapidly changing technologies.”

The Daily Jefferson County Union was founded in 1870 by William Dempster Hoard. The William D. Knox family eventually acquired the company from the Hoard family. Brian Knox, the second generation of the Knox family at the newspaper’s helm, has been named publisher emeritus.

Hometown News publishes the twice-weekly Sun Prairie Star and eight weekly newspapers: Milton Courier; Cambridge News/Deerfield Independent; Lake Mills Leader; Herald-Independent/McFarland Thistle, covering Monona, Cottage Grove and McFarland; Waterloo/Marshall Courier; Waunakee Tribune; DeForest Times-Tribune; and the Lodi Enterprise/Poynette Press.

Knox said that the decision to sell the newspaper division was not made lightly.

“I am very proud that we’ve been alone among weekly and daily newspaper groups in Wisconsin that have been up in circulation over the last five years, he said.

However, a variety of factors ranging from escalating newsprint prices to constantly evolving technology put too great a strain on the newspaper.

“Jefferson County probably is the last county in the country that had two independent, family-owned newspapers,” Knox said. “Unfortunately, it all came to a head.”

The Watertown Daily Times dates back to Nov. 23, 1895, when John W. Cruger and E.J. Schoolcraft formed a partnership for the purpose of publishing a daily newspaper. Members of the Clifford family have owned the Daily Times since 1919.

James Clifford, chairman of the company, said that this was a difficult day for the family, but they felt the Times would be in a stronger position to compete in a challenging and fast-changing competitive environment if it were part of a larger group.

“My family and I have enjoyed being stewards of this important community institution the past 99 years,” Clifford said. “We believe we have selected a new owner that will carry on in the best interests of Watertown, the readers of the Daily Times and our wonderful employees.”

Clifford’s son, Kevin, is the fourth generation of the Clifford family to have worked at the company and currently serves as editor and publisher. Both James and Kevin Clifford have served in leadership roles in a number of state and national newspaper organizations.

With 30 daily newspapers, more than 100 non-daily newspapers and other enterprises operating in 20 states, including Wisconsin, and the District of Columbia, Adams Publishing Group describes itself as “first and foremost a family-owned community newspaper company, which is driven to provide high quality products and services that make a positive difference in the lives of its constituents, which are, in prioritized order: its readers, customers/advertisers, communities, Associates (employees) and its shareholders.”

Other Adams family enterprises include outdoor advertising (billboards), radio, wine, Camping World/Good Sam (recreational vehicles) and significant philanthropic endeavors.

The company currently employs more than 2,300 associates, APG’s preferred term for its employees.

Adams Publishing Group launched in March 2014 by buying three of the four divisions of American Consolidated Media. Other notable acquisitions have included the Idaho Falls Post-Register and Washington Post Southern Maryland Newspapers in 2015, and the 20 dailies and weeklies of well-regarded Pioneer News Group papers in the Pacific Northwest in 2017.

Also, in June 2017, Adams Publishing purchased the Eau Claire Press Company in north-central Wisconsin.

IT was a fourth-generation and fifth-generation family-owned media company with a daily newspaper, the Leader-Telegram; a weekly agricultural newspaper; a shopper product; a commercial printing division; and digital and marketing services.

Mark Adams, CEO of Adams Publishing Group, who launched the company with support from his family, also is the quarterback for the company’s acquisition activities, and serves on its board of directors.

The APG board also consists of Mark’s father, APG’s Chairman Stephen Adams; his three brothers; and two longtime trusted colleagues and friends of the family.

Dirks, Van Essen, Murray & April, a media merger and acquisition firm based in Santa Fe, N.M., represented W.D. Hoard & Sons Co. and the Clifford family in the sales. Terms of the agreements were not disclosed.

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