The Petaluma Argus-Courier, one of the oldest businesses in town, was returned to local ownership for the first time in decades last week when it was purchased by Sonoma Media Investments, a new company comprised of local, influential investors.
The sale was announced on Thursday, Nov. 8 during an emotional meeting with employees of the Argus-Courier, Press Democrat and North Bay Business Journal. All three publications were sold to Sonoma Media by the Florida-based company Halifax Media, which had in turn purchased the companies from the New York Times Co. less than a year earlier.
Bruce Kyse, publisher of the Press Democrat Media group, which includes the Argus-Courier, described the purchase as a "historic moment."
He added that he thought the new ownership presented the best chance for the publications to survive and even grow despite a challenging business climate for newspapers.
Darius Anderson, the longtime Sonoma County resident, influential Sacramento lobbyist and developer who brokered the sale, fought back tears as he spoke of personal ties to the Press Democrat that stretched back to his parents' friendship with the former publisher. He expressed a desire to not only restore the publications to local ownership, but to make them some of the best community newspapers in the country.
Anderson formed Sonoma Media to purchase the Sonoma Index-Tribune and Sonoma Magazine in April 2012. He told reporters in a press conference on Nov. 8 that he saw an opportunity to further expand local ownership of Sonoma County media when the New York Times announced it was selling its North Bay publications to Halifax Media, which seemed to be most focused on expanding its holdings in the Southeast.
He added that he envisioned combining the Index-Tribune and Sonoma Magazine with the Argus-Courier, Press Democrat and Business Journal as a way to "increase the footprint" of the Sonoma County media market.
For the Argus-Courier, whose roots reach back to 1855, the purchase signifies the paper's return to local ownership for the first time since it was sold by the Olmsted family to Scripps League Newspapers in 1965.
"We're very excited to see the Argus-Courier and Press Democrat returned to local ownership, especially since all of the owners are civic-minded and are truly committed to ensuring the continuance of quality local journalism," said John Burns, editor and publisher of the Argus-Courier on Tuesday. "It's a big win for Petaluma and Sonoma County."
Anderson and Steve Falk — the former San Francisco Chronicle publisher who is now the CEO of Sonoma Media — expressed a clear intent to continue to support the Argus-Courier's local coverage.
"From a journalistic perspective, it's crucial we maintain a local focus," Falk said. "We're not going to fix anything that's not broken."
Falk added that he hopes the acquisition will provide the smaller community newspapers in the group, including the Argus-Courier and the twice-weekly Index-Tribune, with more tools as a result of sharing resources among the publications.
"Bruce (Kyse) has done a great job of protecting the Argus-Courier and the Business Journal," Falk said, adding that he believed the Index-Tribune could be assimilated in a similar way. "Instead of being competitive, they'll be complimentary."
The new owners also emphasized that they will continue to invest in digital innovation.