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Buffett Poised to Add Newspapers as Publishers Face Slump

Warren Buffett, chairman of Berkshire Hathaway Inc., at the Allen & Co. Media and Technology Conference in Sun Valley, Idaho, on July 12, 2012. Photographer: David Paul Morris/Bloomberg
Warren Buffett, chairman of Berkshire Hathaway Inc., at the Allen & Co. Media and Technology Conference in Sun Valley, Idaho, on July 12, 2012. Photographer: David Paul Morris/Bloomberg

Warren Buffett, the chairman of Berkshire Hathaway Inc., said he may increase his journalism bet as publishers seek to get rid of newspapers with falling sales.

“I like buying individual papers at the right prices,” Buffett said today on Bloomberg Television’s “In the Loop With Betty Liu” in an interview from an Allen & Co. media conference in Sun Valley, Idaho. “The prices should be low because their revenues are going to decline.”

Buffett, 81, has been expanding Berkshire’s media operations in the past year as he wagers that publications focused on local communities can withstand the shift of readers and advertisers to the Internet. The billionaire’s firm bought the publisher of his hometown paper, the Omaha World-Herald Co., in December, and acquired 63 daily and weekly newspapers from Media General Inc. for $142 million last month.

Berkshire announced two other deals for publications in Texas and disclosed a stake in Lee Enterprises Inc., a publisher of more than 40 papers, including the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, in June. While Buffett’s firm holds the largest stake in Washington Post Co. and has shares of Gannett Co., he said Berkshire is less likely to make more stock market investments in the industry.

“I’d rather buy newspapers myself directly,” he said.

Buffett said he may add more publications as soon as this year and that he doesn’t go out looking for deals.

“That just depends on who calls us,” Buffett said. “We don’t go out searching for them at all, they come to us.”

The newspaper industry is rethinking how to incorporate the Internet into its business. Buffett has said that giving news away free online is “unsustainable” and sought papers that publish in cities and towns with a “sense of community.”

‘Best Thinking’

“We want your best thinking as we work out the blend of digital and print that will attract both the audience and the revenue we need,” Buffett wrote in a letter to the publishers and editors of Omaha, Nebraska-based Berkshire’s daily newspapers after the Media General deal was announced.

The billionaire has called himself a news “addict,” who reads five papers daily. He’s also boasted of his ability to fold and throw a paper onto a front porch, a skill he honed while delivering about 500,000 copies of the Washington Post, Evening Star and Times-Herald as a teenager.

Buffett’s journalists won a Pulitzer Prize -- the industry’s highest honor -- for investigative reporting in 1973 when he was owner of the Omaha Sun. The paper was cited for an analysis of funding at Boys Town, a local charity.

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