Johnston Press in talks to sell 'Echo' to ex-owner


BRITISH MEDIA group Johnston Press is believed to be in advanced talks to sell the Tallaght-based Echoweekly newspaper to former owner David Kennedy at a knockdown price.

The weekly paid-for title is being sold separately from Johnston Press’s 12 other regional newspapers in the Republic, which were put on the blocks last week.

It is understood that Mr Kennedy is close to agreeing a deal to buy the Tallaght paper for less than €1 million.

Mr Kennedy sold the Echoto the Leinster Leaderin 2005 for a reported €5 million. Shortly after that deal, the newspaper was sold as part of the Leinster Leader group to Johnston for €138 million.

It is understood that Johnston Press has quietly been trying to sell the Tallaght-based Echonewspaper for the past year or so.

The Echohas a circulation of more than 9,200 a week. It prints editions for Tallaght, Clondalkin, Ballyfermot and Lucan.

It is the leading local newspaper in Tallaght but has struggled for advertising of late, due to the recession. Its main rival, the freesheet Tallaght Voice, recently ceased publication.

Johnston Press is seeking to exit regional newspapers in the Republic as part of a major restructuring of the troubled group. It has engaged Raglan Capital in Dublin to sell its titles in the Republic, which include the Kilkenny People, the Leinster Leaderand the Limerick Leader.

It is understood that Johnston is not selling its stable of newspapers in Northern Ireland at this point.

Raglan is not involved in the sale of the Tallaght newspaper.

Johnston’s Irish papers are believed to have earned turnover of about €38 million last year and produced earnings before interest, tax, depreciation and amortisation of more than €10 million.

All the regional titles are thought to be profitable. Printing presses in Limerick and Kilkenny and some properties are included in the sale.

The titles are expected to fetch between €50 million and €80 million – a steep discount to the estimated €250 million that Johnston paid to acquire the papers at the height of the economic boom.

An information memorandum is being circulated to interested parties, including Independent News Media, Cork-based Thomas Crosbie Holdings and The Irish Times.

The sale memorandum is also likely to be circulated among private equity groups. A deadline of mid-March has been set for bids.

John Taylor, who owns the Northern Ireland-based Alpha Newspaper group, and who bought the Tuam Heraldbefore Christmas, is not expected to be among the bidders.