Melbourne-headquartered Star News Group is to buy 14 mastheads in South Australia and Queensland, where it already owns community titles including Noosa Today.
ACM is unloading mastheads outside its key markets of NSW, the ACT, Victoria and Tasmania.
ACM’s Queensland mastheads in the deal include the Mount Isa North-West Star – which belonged to the Joel family before being sold to Fairfax Media – and the Beaudesert Times, another relatively recent Fairfax purchase, as well as the Goondiwindi Argus.
In South Australia, ACM is selling the Border Chronicle, Naracoorte Herald, Port Lincoln Times, Kangaroo Island’s The Islander, the Murray Valley Standard, The Recorder, the Victor Harbor Times, The Transcontinental, Whyalla News, Coastal Leader and the Flinders News.
In a statement reported in ACM’s Lismore News, managing director Tony Kendall says the company had been approached by “a few different parties” in recent months about its willingness to sell regional titles outside key markets of NSW, the ACT, Victoria and Tasmania”.
“We have then gone through an informal sale process and are pleased to announce we have found a buyer with a strong history in publishing,” he said.
“We feel these titles with their proud legacies will have a bright future continuing to serve their communities under the guidance of Paul Thomas and the Star News Group team.”
Kendall says the sale will allow ACM to focus on its core titles, which include 14 daily mastheads, its agricultural publications and a growing base of digital subscribers.
He said staff working on the South Australian and Queensland titles had been briefed on the proposed sale, with “consultation under way ahead of the anticipated completion of the transaction in February”.
ACM is retaining agricultural titles Queensland Country Life, the North Queensland Register and South Australia's Stock Journal.
ACM “remained committed to publishing despite the challenges posed by the soaring cost of the newsprint used for newspapers.
“We are incredibly proud of the role our long-standing mastheads play in print and online in keeping their communities informed, connected and strong.
“Our focus has always been on keeping our business sustainable so if we’re approached about titles outside of our key markets we would of course look at what's best for those mastheads, their communities and how any potential transaction might help support and strengthen ACM in its key markets."
ACM is also in “early talks” with another potential buyer to sell its community titles in regional Western Australia.
The acquisition extends the footprint of Star’s associated titles under the Today News Group brand in Queensland and the Border Watch Group in Mount Gambier. It owns the former News Corp print site in Rockhampton.
The century-old Star News group is led by managing director Paul Thomas and owned by the Thomas family. It grew from the Berwick Shire News and Pakenham and Cranbourne Gazette founded in 1909 by Albert Edward Thomas.
Paul Thomas said that “as the fourth generation of his family leading the company”, he was deeply committed to the role of the local newspaper in the community. “A strong independent local media is as important today as ever and the Star News Group has been involved in many positive campaigns to make a difference within our communities.
“We plan to nurture and grow these new titles in our group and look forward to working with the local community served by each of these mastheads."
ACM is owned by Antony Catalano and business partner Alex Waislitz's Thorney Investment Group.