A partnership of influential local buyers told emotional stories Thursday about their purchase of The Press Democrat, describing it as nothing less than the salvation of a community institution.
In a press conference and at a gathering of newspaper employees, the new owners shared personal accounts of their ties to the paper and affirmed their belief in its journalism and prospects as a business.
They insisted they would refrain from interfering with news and editorial coverage. And they expressed confidence in their ability to steer the paper, with roots stretching back 155 years, out of the financial forces that have ravaged print media for more than a decade.
"I want this to be seen as the best community newspaper in the country," said Darius Anderson, the Sonoma-based developer and high-powered lobbyist who formed the purchase group, Sonoma Media Investments.
Another principal investor, former North Coast congressman Doug Bosco, said buying the paper would "return this great institution to its roots, where it got started and where it's going to stay."
"Absentee ownership of The Press Democrat is a thing of the past," he said.
The message earned hearty applause from newspaper employees, some of whom signed off on a rushed contract agreement Thursday that allowed the purchase to go forward.
"I personally believe this ownership group presents the best opportunity for success," Press Democrat Publisher Bruce Kyse told the audience of hundreds, including press, circulation, advertising and newsroom employees.
A broader test of the deal will come from readers and advertisers. The buyers sought to assure both that local ownership would mean greater investment in the publications and their affiliated websites.
"We look forward to continuing and expanding the focus on local news, information and entertainment in both print and digital products," said Steve Falk, CEO of Sonoma Media Investments and a former publisher of the San Francisco Chronicle.
The partnership closed a 10-month negotiation Thursday, buying The Press Democrat and two affiliated weeklies — the Petaluma Argus-Courier and the North Bay Business Journal — from Halifax Media Group of Daytona, Fla. Terms and conditions were not disclosed.
The names of six high-profile "community investors" involved in the acquisition also were revealed for the first time Thursday. They include county residents who made fortunes in banking, technology and human resources as well as prominent local benefactors.
On the list are Sandy Weill, the retired CEO and chairman of Citigroup and the philanthropist behind the completion of the Green Music Center in Rohnert Park; Bill Jasper, the former CEO and president of Dolby Sound; Les Vadasz, a founding member of Intel Corp.; and Gary Nelson, founder of the Nelson Family of Companies, which specialize in staffing and recruitment. All are residents of Sonoma.
Benefactors include Norma Person, the widow of Evert Person, who sold The Press Democrat to the New York Times Co. in 1985. Another is Jeannie Schulz, widow of Charles Schulz, the creator of the Peanuts comic strip.
She said newspapers were her husband's "lifeblood" and The Press Democrat "part of the rhythm of my life for 50 years here in Santa Rosa."