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DAVENPORT, Iowa (AP) — Lee Enterprises Inc. announced Tuesday it has reached an agreement to acquire Howard Publications, a family owned company of 16 daily newspapers.

The $694 million acquisition includes newspapers in California, Indiana, Iowa, Idaho, Washington, South Carolina, Illinois, Pennsylvania, Kentucky and New York.

With the purchase, Lee will own 38 daily papers, including the Independent Record, the Missoulian, the Billings Gazette and The (Butte) Montana Standard. Lee also owns a number of weekly papers and advertisers in Montana.

“The Howard newspapers fit precisely with our core strategy of buying midsize newspapers in good markets,” said Mary Junck, Lee Enterprises president and chief executive officer. “As we’ve said repeatedly, we believe that publishing newspapers in these six markets is a wonderful business, one that we have proven we know how to do well.”

Howard newspapers have total daily circulation of 479,000 and include the North County Times in Oceanside and Escondido, Calif.; The Times of northwest Indiana; and the Waterloo-Cedar Falls Courier of Waterloo, Iowa. Howard is based in Oceanside, Calif.

Others include the Star-Tribune in Casper, Wyo.; The Times-News in Twin Falls, Idaho; and The Post-Star in Glens Falls, N.Y.

The purchase also includes Howard’s half-interest in The Sioux City Journal in Iowa.

With the purchase, Lee Enterprises will own 38 daily newspapers and a joint interest in six others.

William E. Howard of Howard Publications said the family initially approached Lee.

“I’m confident that Lee will make our newspapers more successful and provide more career opportunities for our employees,” he said.

There are no immediate plans for personnel changes at the Howard newspapers, Junck said later Tuesday in a telephone interview.

“So far, we’ve been impressed with the Howard management, and we would need to get to know them a little better,” she said.

Junck also said that, while the acquisition offers some cost-saving possibilities in the areas of newsprint and corporate overhead, it chiefly is seen in terms of revenue potential.

“We’re seeing this more driven by revenue potential than cost reductions,” she said.

Lee Enterprises plans more aggressive advertising sales at the Howard newspapers, as well as a launch of niche publications, and expansion of online services such as classified ad programs and special sections, Junck said.

“We’ve gained a lot of experience in sales management and tactics, specifically tailored to midsize markets, and believe that through training, managing, benchmarking and incentives, we can drive more revenue and readers to Howard newspapers and their Web sites,” she said.

“At the same time, we’re impressed with numerous innovative selling and sales management tactics Howard has successfully executed, and we’re eager to move those to Lee,” she said.

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