By Ellen Clegg
Not all newspaper acquisitions involve hedge funds that gobble up trusted titles with deep community roots. Sometimes quieter transactions take place outside major urban centers that augur well for the preservation of local journalism, or at least strike a faint chime of hope. One such deal: Ogden Newspapers, a family-owned company founded in 1890, is purchasing Swift Communications, which publishes community papers in western mountain resort towns as well as niche agricultural titles like the Goat Journal.
Robert Nutting, the CEO of Ogden (and the billionaire owner of the Pittsburgh Pirates), and Bill Waters, CEO and chairman of the board of Swift Communications, had nothing but positive things to say about the move, according to a report in Editor & Publisher – although the announcement came as a surprise to some staff members. Here’s Nutting: “We are particularly excited to be working with a team that has been recognized as an innovator in community journalism.” And here’s Waters: “We know the time has come to pass the baton of stewardship to new owners who can carry forward the important mission.” The sale is scheduled to close December 31. No purchase price was disclosed.
Just take a minute and mark those words: stewardship, mission, community journalism. They’re hopeful signals that Ogden does not intend to emulate vulture capital owners who have carpet-bombed local newsrooms across the nation. As my colleague Dan Kennedy writes, about half of us are likely reading a shadow paper that is owned by, or is in debt to, Alden Global Capital, Apollo Global Management or Chatham Asset Management. Even now, like Muncher in “Ghostbusters: Afterlife,” Alden is hungrily eyeing Lee Enterprises, which owns 77 daily papers.
The 20 publications that Ogden has just acquired convey the spice and tang of the communities they cover and are most likely the sorts of publications, bursting with news about local politics and personalities, that James Madison had in mind when crafting the First Amendment of the Constitution. Some 11 of them are in Colorado’s high country, according to Colorado Public Radio, with titles like the Steamboat Pilot & Today and The Aspen Times. Others are dedicated to raising goats and maintaining the family farm, endeavors which touch on crucial issues like climate change and the nation’s groaning supply chain. A recent headline in The Fence Post: “Biden administration extends trucking waiver.”
The Steamboat Pilot & Today, for example, is a daily print newspaper distributed throughout Routt County, Colorado, which has a population of 25,000. “Its police blotter section is the source of a very popular and somewhat hilarious little book called Ski Town Shenanigans, which recounts bear, moose and partying episodes common to the area. It is a lovely little local rag, which we all rely upon to know what is happening in our part of the Rockies,” says Janice Symchych, an attorney and a 10-year resident of the surrounding ranch country who says she aligns with those “who share a collective sense of the importance of grassroots news and communication.”
Marissa Ames, editor of the Goat Journal in Greeley, Colorado, says she’s optimistic: “Any time in journalism when we have stability and a promise of something bigger it’s really exciting.” The Journal, now in its 100th year, is published every other month and is broadening its coverage to include stories about goats raised for angora fiber, goats used as pack animals and goats raised for milk and meat. Ames says she hopes Ogden can help increase the Journal’s digital presence. The print edition has a circulation of about 3,000, she says, but the Facebook page has more than 12,000 followers. “This is very much community journalism,” she tells me in an interview. “No matter where you live, who you love, or how you look, if you’re kind to your goats, we represent you. That ties us together as a community.”
Assuming the sale goes through, as of January 1, Ogden Newspapers will publish 54 daily newspapers. Nutting promised to keep the focus on local content, and vowed those operations will remain largely unchanged, according to Colorado Public Radio.