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Examiner sold to group that includes Canadian publisher

Billionaire oilman Phil Anschutz has agreed to sell the San Francisco Examiner to an investor group that includes the owner of Black Press, a Canadian firm that owns more than 170 community papers in Vancouver and northern Washington state as well as the Akron (Ohio) Beacon Journal and the Honolulu Star Advertiser in the U.S.

Black Press also has a stake in the private equity group that bought the San Diego Union Tribune from the Copley family in 2009.

The company is headed by David H. Black (no relation to disgraced Canadian publishing mogul Conrad Black), who has been looking for newspapers to buy, now that their prices have declined.

“Black has a reputation for operating leanly but with some imagination and business flair,” said the Poynter Institute’s Rick Edmonds in this piece about the sale of the Union Tribune.

In 2008, the Examiner
put its endorsement of
John McCain and Sarah
Palin on its cover

“I sat at the same table as Black during the luncheon where Hillary Clinton spoke at last year’s Newspaper Association of America convention, awkwardly overhearing a business conversation with a colleague before I realized who he was,” Edmonds wrote. “The talk confirmed what I had heard secondhand — that Black was an optimist about the business and a potential buyer when many were bailing out.”

The Examiner was founded in 1863 as the Democratic Press, a pro-slavery paper that opposed Abraham Lincoln. Its offices were burned down two years later and the paper resumed publishing as the Daily Examiner.

According to legend, mining engineer and entrepreneur George Hearst acquired the Examiner in 1880 as partial payment of a poker debt. When he was elected to the U.S. Senate, he turned the money-losing paper over to his son, William Randolph Hearst, who went on to build a newspaper empire with the Examiner as its flagship. Among the writers whose bylines appeared in the paper were Jack London and Mark Twain.

Fast forward to the 1950s. At the start of the decade, San Francisco had four daily newspapers. Within a few years though, the San Francisco Call-Bulletin would merge with Scipps-Howard’s San Francisco News, becoming the News-Call Bulletin. Then, in 1965, the News-Call Bulletin merged with the Examiner.

At that point, the Examiner and Chronicle entered into a joint operating agreement in which the two would share the same advertising staff and presses but operate separate newsrooms. The Chronicle would continue to print in the mornings, Monday-Saturday. The Examiner remained an afternoon paper. On Sundays, two papers put out one edition, with the news sections being produced by the Examiner and the feature pages by the Chronicle.

That arrangement lasted until 2000 when Hearst bought the Chronicle for a reported $660 million and was forced by the U.S. Justice Department’s Antitrust Division to sell the Examiner to the politically connected Fang family, then publishers of the Independent newspapers in San Francisco and San Mateo County. Hearst was also forced to pay the Fangs a subsidy of $66 million.

Paid circulation dropped and in 2003, the Examiner became a free daily and switched from a broadsheet to tabloid. A year later, the Fang family sold the Examiner and its printing plant to Anschutz. He brought a conservative voice to San Francisco media, going as far as to endorse John McCain and Sarah Palin on the front page.

Anschutz’s newspaper company, Clarity Media, used the Examiner name to start similar papers in Baltimore (which closed in 2009) and Washington, D.C. The Examiner name is also used on the company’s national website, which has thousands of bloggers who are paid based on the number of pageviews their stories get.

In September, Anschutz bought the daily paper in Oklahoma City. With that acquisition and Clarity’s Washington Examiner, it was “clear that owning a single newspaper asset on the West Coast was no longer consistent with our evolving business plan,” said Clarity CEO Ryan McKibben in a statement yesterday.

The deal is expected to close on Nov. 30. The sale price hasn’t been disclosed, and may not become public since both the buyer and seller are privately held.

The group buying the Examiner includes David Black, Todd Vogt and Pat Brown. Vogt will be President and CEO while Brown will be chief financial officer.

Correction: An earlier version of this posting incorrectly said that Black Press was buying the Examiner. Actually, it is the investor group described in the previous paragraph.

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