Antony Catalano says he plans to "grow the business, not shrink it to greatness" after buying the regional publishing group which includes The Courier.
The former chief executive of the Domain real estate platform and billionaire Alex Waislitz's Thorney Investment Group will pay Nine Entertainment Co $115 million for Australian Community Media's 160 regional newspapers and magazines.
Mr Catalano told the Herald on Tuesday that he and Thorney would each take a half stake in ACM, whose name could change after the sale was finalised in June.
He said he would likely take on the role of executive chairman of the company, which was part of the Fairfax empire that merged with Nine late last year.
Mr Catalano identified seven of ACM's larger papers, including the Herald, as key players in the firm and said the populations they served made them valuable assets.
"I've always been fascinated by the size of the audience of those publications," he said. "There's obviously the Newcastle Herald, both the Canberra Times and the Illawarra Mercury, The Border Mail, and then some others in the group, the Ballarat Courier, the Warrnambool Standard, Bendigo Advertiser.
"It's an opportunity to generate significant revenue. I think we can beef that up and invest. I'm going to continue to do that pretty aggressively.
"There's certainly what I would call regional-city assets in there, and the rest of them are obviously very good hyper-local content players."
Mr Catalano told the Sydney Morning Herald last week that "some stuff" in ACM "doesn't make sense".
When asked again about the future of the dozens of smaller ACM papers across Australia, Mr Catalano said on Tuesday: "The question now is to look at all of the options open to us to make this a bigger and better business, and not a shrinking business.
"And that's in the context of a category that is facing structural headwinds. It has for many years."
Mr Catalano said ACM papers would continue to be printed under press-sharing deals struck last year between what was then Fairfax and News Corp.
"That's an area that will continue to be reviewed and consolidated, but, obviously, if there are less publications, there's less need for print centres, so I think you'll continue to see some consolidation of print centres for them to remain viable."
He said larger ACM newspapers such as The Courier and Times would continue to publish Domain property magazines, locking in a key revenue stream. Nine owns 59 per cent of Domain.
The new owners paid Nine $115 million in cash and $10 million in advertising for ACM, beating out rival bids from Allegro Funds and Anchorage Capital Partners. Mr Catalano said he had expressed an interest in buying ACM "immediately after" the Nine merger.
"I haven't invested in this business with a view to going in there and stripping it bare and closing it down," he said.
"The intent is to buy a business that has some value in it. I've got a history of hiring, not firing. I want to grow the business, not shrink it to greatness."
On editorial independence, a key issue for journalists when Fairfax merged with Nine, he said: "There's simply no merit in content that doesn't resonate with the audience, and it doesn't resonate if it doesn't have authenticity and credibility."
The Media, Entertainment and Arts Alliance welcomed Mr Catalano's comments about investing in papers but was concerned this could come at the expense of smaller mastheads being closed.
"There are about 650 editorial staff employed across the country by the ACM group. It is essential the individual audiences for each masthead be respected," MEAA media director Katelin McInerney said.
She warned that Mr Catalano had been responsible for editorial cutbacks in previous publishing ventures.
"Genuine local reporting was gradually whittled away in favour of bland, vanilla news stories shared across several mastheads," she said.
Mr Catalano has a colourful history with Fairfax.
He was property editor and marketing director at The Age but was made redundant in 2008. He then founded The Weekly Review, a rival property magazine, sold half of it to Fairfax for $35 million in 2011, became Domain boss in 2013 then left in early 2018. He tried to scuttle the Fairfax merger last year.
ACM also includes The Wimmera Mail Times, The Ararat Advertiser, and Stawell Times as well as interstate The Maitland Mercury, Port Stephens Examiner, Cessnock Advertiser,.