Gannett: From Royal Soper to Tronc

Crazy acquisition target names are nothing new.

ElmiraStarGazetteLogoJim Hare, a one-time mayor of Elmira, N.Y., has a monthly column in the Elmira Star-Gazette, the original cornerstone of today’s Gannett empire. Over the July 4 weekend, he retraced how the late Frank Gannett bought into the paper in 1906 (then known as just the Gazette), starting down a path that would lead to the creation of the Gannett Company in 1923.

In light of Sunday’s report by Politico’s Ken Doctor that Gannett’s long-rumored acquisition of Tronc is about to be announced, it’s fun to note that another former mayor of Elmira played a key role in the genesis of Gannett. And that a weird name was involved then, too. From Hare’s column:

Purchasing a half-interest in the Elmira Gazette was a challenge for Frank Gannett. He soon learned that Edwin R. Davenport’s partner, Royal Soper, was a front for David B. Hill, the real owner.

Hill was a former Elmira mayor, New York governor and U.S. senator whose political creed was “I am a Democrat.” By 1906, Hill had retired from politics and lived near Albany at his country home, Wolfert’s Roost. He was described as having a “dominating personality.”

Got that? One hundred years before Tribune Publishing was turned into Tronc, Royal Soper morphed into David B. Hill. The purchase price that got Frank Gannett started in the newspaper business was $20,000. He had only $3,000 of that, borrowing another $7,000 and giving Davenport promissory notes for the remaining $10,000.

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@hollywoodspin Richard Horgan is co-editor of Fishbowl.