It was announced last week that Sound Publishing—which owns 36 daily, weekly, and monthly newspapers and magazines in western Washington, as well as the Little Nickel—has acquired Seattle Weekly for an undisclosed price.
The paper was sold to Sound Publishing, whose parent company is Canadian newspaper mogul David Black's Black Press Ltd. (see Don Ward's "Betting on David Black," July 16, 2008), by Voice Media Group—the ownership group that reached an agreement to assume control of Seattle Weekly in September as part of a separation from Village Voice Media Holdings and the controversial website Backpage.com. Voice Media's sale of SW, along with the sale of SF Weekly to the San Francisco Examiner—now owned by another Black subsidiary—helped finalize September's buyout agreement.
Known for its stable of small, suburban community newspapers—like the Bellevue Reporter, the Port Orchard Independent, and the Bremerton Patriot—Sound Publishing's decision to buy SW marks the company's first foray into inner-city Seattle. According to SW publisher Kenny Stocker, the opportunity to expand its reach and offer advertisers the chance to connect with readers throughout the region was one of SP's primary motivations behind the deal. He says the move will have similar positive benefits for SW. "It's going to give us a much larger footprint all over western Washington, because we'll have the ability to be a one-stop shop for advertisers to reach the whole marketplace," says Stocker of what the deal means for SW.
Despite the obvious business advantages, Stocker says some advertisers have expressed concern about whether SW will maintain its identity under the new ownership. Stocker says SW's sales staff has already begun to reassure advertisers that the paper has no plans to change its approach or editorial coverage.
Advertisers aren't the only people wondering what the sale means for the future of SW. Readers and journalists who've covered the sale since it was announced have raised similar concerns, given that SP is known more for small, straight-laced suburban publications than for alternative papers like SW, which has built its name on award-winning long-form journalism and an edgy take on local politics, arts, and music. Sound Publishing president Gloria Fletcher and vice president of East Sound operations Josh O'Connor maintain that their company purchased SW for what it is, and say there are no plans to change the paper's focus.
"Sound Publishing's community daily and weekly publications have a tremendous relationship with their readers and advertisers, just like the Seattle Weekly," says Fletcher. "Certainly the Weekly's content choice is a bit different. It is edgy and more politically and entertainment-based, but we value that difference and don't have any plans to change it."
Adds O'Connor: "Simply put, the Seattle Weekly is a great urban publication that would be a valuable asset to any news organization. The thought of working with Seattle's best music, food, arts, and entertainment writers is pretty exciting. We have published two urban alternative weeklies in Vancouver and Victoria for the past 15 years, and are proud to add a similar publication to Sound Publishing. For us it's about preserving print and online audiences by using our network efficiencies and being local. We recognize the value of the Seattle Weekly and what it brings to the urban community."
The sale of SW marks a return to local ownership for a paper with long-standing ties to the community, but also a history of non-local owners. Founded by Seattleite David Brewster in 1976, SW was sold in 1997 to Stern Publishing, and then in 2000 to out-of-state Village Voice Media. In 2006 Village Voice Media was in turn purchased by Phoenix's New Times Media, which kept the Village Voice Media name.
"Owners who breathe the same air we breathe—or, more accurately, get soaked by the same rain—are always going to have a keener sense of what makes Seattle and the Puget Sound region tick," says SW editor-in-chief Mike Seely of his paper's new owner. "They're smart businesspeople. And if they're smart enough to let us maintain our creative voice, then this could be a happy marriage of perceived opposites. If Michael Douglas and Catherine Zeta-Jones can sustain their sizzle, so can we."