Colorado media activists save Aurora’s weekly newspaper

Photo (cc) 2012 by Ken Lund

Media activists in Colorado have stepped up once again to save a newspaper from either closing or falling into the clutches of corporate chain ownership. Colorado media watcher Corey Hutchins, a journalism professor at Colorado College, reports that Sentinel Colorado, a free weekly with a daily website in Aurora, will be acquired by a temporary holding company.

It’s a complicated transaction that involves some of the same players that pulled off the purchase of Colorado Community Media’s weekly and monthly newspapers last year. CCM is now being managed by The Colorado Sun, a digital start-up in Denver that was given an ownership stake.

Aurora, Colorado’s third-largest city, has a population of about 380,000 and is approximately a dozen miles east of Denver.

As with the CCM transaction, the Colorado News Collaborative has helped with the Aurora deal, although the Sun is not involved this time around. Laura Frank, the collaborative’s executive director, was quoted by The Sentinel as saying:

Journalism leaders and community members in Colorado are finding ways to change the narrative and the trajectory of failing news outlets. Together, we are making journalism stronger, which makes democracy stronger. I’m thrilled COLab can help support that work.

Earlier this year, the nonprofit Corporation for New Jersey Local Media acquired 14 weekly newspapers serving about 50 cities and towns. The papers will be run as a public benefit corporation — a for-profit arrangement that is geared toward serving the public rather than rewarding its owners.

That’s also the business model for the Sun and CCM, and it’s been emerging at news organizations across the country as a third-way alternative to traditional for-profit ownership and nonprofit status.

No guest this week as Ellen and I kick it around on the ‘What Works’ podcast

No guest this week as co-hosts Ellen Clegg and I run down a number of news stories, including a major deal in New Jersey: the nonprofit Corporation for New Jersey Local Media (CNJLM) acquired 14 weekly newspapers serving some 50 municipalities. The papers were owned by the New Jersey Hills Media Group.

The deal is similar to one announced last year when Colorado Community Media sold its 24 weekly and monthly newspapers in a complex deal involving several nonprofit organizations. The difference is that management of the Colorado papers was turned over to The Colorado Sun, a digital start-up that was awarded an ownership share and could eventually become the majority owner. In New Jersey, the sellers, Liz and Steve Parker, will remain in charge.

Ellen unpacks the story behind a glaring omission in the award-winning documentary film, “Storm Lake,” and we both try to grapple with the blockchain and how Web3 might affect local newsrooms.

You can listen to our conversation here and subscribe through your favorite podcast app.

A nonprofit campaign saves 14 weekly newspapers in suburban New Jersey

Photo (cc) 2009 by Wally Gobetz. Hills Media is headquartered in Whippany, N.J., home to the Whippany Railway Museum.

Big news out of New Jersey: The nonprofit Corporation for New Jersey Local Media (CNJLM) has acquired 14 weekly newspapers serving some 50 municipalities. The papers are owned by the New Jersey Hills Media Group.

The deal is similar to one announced last year when Colorado Community Media sold its 24 weekly and monthly newspapers in a complex deal involving several nonprofit organizations. The difference is that management of the Colorado papers was turned over to The Colorado Sun, a digital start-up that was awarded an ownership share and could eventually become the majority owner. In New Jersey, the sellers, Liz and Steve Parker, will remain in charge.

As with the Colorado deal, terms of the Hills Media transaction were not disclosed. According to an announcement on the CNJLM website, the organization sought to raise $500,000 to purchase the Hills papers, though it’s not clear whether that covered all or just part of the cost.

According to an email announcement by Amanda Richardson, executive director of  CJNLM, the Hills Media papers will be reorganized as a “societal benefits corporation.” A New Jersey guide to benefit corporations explains it this way: “While traditional corporations have the single duty to maximize profit, benefit corporations have the increased purpose of considering society and the environment in addition to seeking a profit.”

Public benefit corporations are increasingly being set up as the ownership vehicle of choice for news outlets since they do not operate under some of the restrictions that traditional nonprofits must contend with, such as a prohibition against endorsing political candidates or specific pieces of legislation on their editorial pages. The Sun, The Philadelphia Inquirer and, closer to home, The Provincetown Independent are all public benefit corporations. All three also have nonprofit affiliations that allow them to raise tax-exempt money for in-depth reporting projects.

Confusingly, Hills Media’s own story claims that the company will become a nonprofit and incorrectly describes the Inquirer, Colorado Community Media and the Tampa Bay Times as nonprofits. The Inquirer and the Times are for-profit newspapers owned by nonprofit organizations.

The Corporation for New Jersey Local Media, part of the Community Foundation of New Jersey, is “dedicated to preserving and expanding the quality and accessibility of professional journalism that is vital to informed civic engagement and the practice of democracy.”

Hills Media serves Morris, Somerset, Essex and Hunterdon counties, which are directly east of Newark.

Correction: I must have read Hills Media’s story too quickly. In fact, it does state that the newspapers will be reorganized as a societal benefits corporation.

A chain of 14 weeklies in New Jersey will convert to nonprofit ownership

Bernardsville, N.J. Photo (cc) 2012 by Doug Kerr.

I love this. A small chain of 14 weekly papers in north central New Jersey is converting to nonprofit ownership. The New Jersey Hills Media Group will work with the Corporation for New Jersey Local Media in order to make the transition — and will immediately embark on a fundraising drive with a goal of $500,000. Co-publisher and business manager Steve Parker explains the move this way:

Our family has served as stewards of these newspapers for 66 years, and we are pleased that a nonprofit group based in our communities has come forward to ensure that they will continue their mission of community journalism far into the future.

The papers — some of which are more than 100 years old — serve 52 communities in Morris, Somerset, Essex and Hunterdon counties.

According to the announcement, the chain might become the largest nonprofit group of weeklies in the country. Among large daily papers, The Salt Lake Tribune has converted to nonprofit status, while there are a handful of for-profit papers owned by nonprofit organizations — a list that includes The Philadelphia Inquirer, the Tampa Bay Times, the New Hampshire Union Leader and The Day of New London, Connecticut. And, of course, public radio stations are nonprofit news organizations.

You sometimes hear that nonprofit ownership doesn’t solve all the problems faced by shrinking newspapers, since they still have to balance the books. That’s true. But it solves a lot of the problems. Tax-exempt status and ownership by people invested in the community rather than by corporate chains and hedge funds go along way toward ensuring the future of local news.