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Copley Press Inc., the owner of the San Diego Union-Tribune, a local newspaper, is exploring the sale of seven of its Ohio and Illinois newspapers, the company announced today.

The move comes as the company tries to insulate the Union-Tribune from a downturn in the newspaper business and the estate taxes owed from the death of Helen Copley, the company’s former matriarch, the company said.

The company has been consolidating throughout 2006. In June, it announced its plans to sell three of its Los Angeles newspapers. In September, it eliminated 26 positions by consolidating Today’s Local News, a two-year-old community publication in San Marcos, with the Union-Tribune‘s operations. Sales of the Ohio and Illinois papers would leave Copley Press with the Union-Tribune as its sole large paper.

Like many nationwide newspapers, the Union-Tribune‘s circulation has been dropping. It sells an average of 304,334 daily papers, according to the Audit Bureau of Circulations, and sells 390,000 Sunday papers. The paper’s Sunday circulation has seen a nearly 12 percent decline in the last year. Its daily circulation is down 2.5 percent in that same time.

In Illinois, The (Peoria) Journal Star, The (Galesburg) Register-Mail, The (Lincoln) Courier and The (Springfield) State Journal-Register are all up for grabs.

In Ohio, The (Canton) Repository, The (Dover-New Philadelphia) Times-Reporter and The (Massillon) Independent are for sale.

According to the Journal Star:

The announcement was met with stunned silence by Journal Star employees, many of whom recalled hearing about 11 years ago that the Journal Star, after more than a century of family ownership, was for sale. It was eventually acquired by Copley.

The company made a similar announcement in June, when it announced it would sell or consolidate three newspapers in Los Angeles: The (Torrance) Daily Breeze, the Beach Reporter and the Palos Verdes News.

We’ll have more on this as we get it.

ROB DAVIS

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