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Newspapers a growing, not dying, industry for Sound Publishing and parent Black Press

Don't tell Gloria Fletcher, who as president of Sound Publishing guides what has become Washington's largest and fastest-growing newspaper company, that print media is a dying industry.

Bellevue-based Sound, which owns 38 daily, weekly, community and monthly newspapers in this state, assumed ownership this month of its latest acquisitions, the Daily World of Aberdeen and three weekly newspapers in Grays Harbor County for an undisclosed amount of money.

Gloria Fletcher
Gloria Fletcher

"We don't believe this is a dying industry," Fletcher said "We believe in print but understand the value of the digital component as well."

Sound, as the U.S. subsidiary of Canada's largest independent newspaper company, has become more visible since Fletcher's arrival in April of 2012 with the purchase of the Daily Herald in Everett and the Seattle Weekly and Fletcher has, without a lot of fanfare, quietly become one of the state's most influential business women.

"Influential business woman" is a designation that would be uncomfortable for the low-key Oklahoma native, a 1984 honors graduate at the University of Oklahoma, who became publisher of her hometown Woodward, OK a year later.

Within three years, she had become an executive of American Publishing Co., overseeing a group of the company's newspapers. By the time American Publishing was acquired in 1999 by Community Newspaper Holdings Inc. and she was made vice president to oversee 38 newspapers in Oklahoma and the Central Midwest, Fletcher had a 4 year old and a one year old.

In her roles as a key executive of four publishing companies, she has carved out increasingly key roles and has thus helped break the mold of what traditionally had been, with a few nationally notable exceptions like Washington Post publisher Katharine Graham, an industry dominated by men.

Fletcher's belief in the future of newspapers fits well with the philosophy of Canadian parent Black Press, the Victoria-based company founded by David Black, who ran the company and grew it to dominance across British Columbia and Alberta before elevating president and COO Rick O'Connor to succeed him as CEO of the company.

Fletcher's philosophy mirrors O'Connor's as well, as he made clear in a telephone interview we had this week in which he said "the value of print is being undersold and the value of digital is being overhyped."

"I'm not saying we don't embrace digital," O'Connor said. "But print is still king, representing 90 percent of our revenue."

He notes that the newspaper industry is beset by a "lot of uncertainty and where there is a lot of uncertainty people tend not to invest," but notes that "when you look at Warren Buffet and other non-newspaper people investing, it's a sign of how smart people are viewing the prospects of the industry."

Among those non-newspaper people getting into print is, of course, Seattle's Jeff Bezos. founder and CEO of Amazon. His purchase of the Washington Post in the summer of 2013 created conversation and conjecture across the traditional media industry.

Bezos' Post purchase created an interesting convergence with Sound in that it was about four months before the Post-Bezos announcement that Sound purchased the Everett Herald from the Washington Post Co., providing the opportunity for m to joke to the Herald's new publisher, Josh O'Connor, that he might now be sitting in the chair Bezos had hoped to be sitting in.

The fact that a move into newspapers by non-newspaper people isn't always going to be a winning proposition was emphasized by word this week that Boston financier Aaron Kushner and his 2100 Trust LLC holding company, which was formed specifically for the purpose of buying and growing major newspapers, may be having serious growing pains. Perhaps even survival pains.

This week Kushner either stepped aside or was stepped on and forced out by investors from his role as publisher of the Orange County Register a week after the Los Angeles Register folded six months into Kushner's experiment to create a daily LA to compete with the Los Angeles Times. Kushner had purchased the OC Register a year before Bezos' acquisition of the Post.

Perhaps in keeping with the premise of his Trust, for which he remains CEO, he was replaced as publisher by former casino executive Richard Mirman, who has no newspaper experience.

And naturally Kushner's travails have been greeted with great glee by traditional newspaper people, as evidenced by a column in USA Today headlined "Kushner's bold bet on print ends up as a farce."

But Black Press' O'Connor and Sound's Fletcher are not worried about the problems of those who are newspaper believers but may lack the experience to deal with the challenges.

Black Press touts itself as "home to some of the oldest, most trusted community newspapers in North America."

In fact, Black Press itself has grown in size and prestige as a newspaper company by grabbing off once-marquee titles of once-dominant but now sinking media companies, as with Honolulu Star-Advertiser, which once carried the Gannett flag, the Akron Beacon-Journal, formerly a McClatchy newspaper, in addition to The Herald from the Washington Post.

The Black, and thus the Sound, business strategy is based on newspaper clusters, as with the importance of "cluster" in the Grays Harbor acquisitions. It is clusters that mark Sounds presence in East King County with its Reporter Newspapers, in Kitsap County and on the Olympic Peninsula, where it owns the daily Port Angeles Evening News.

The cluster concept is also in place for Black in Hawaii where, as a result of acquisitions that include two dailies related to the Aberdeen purchase, it owns all the English-language dailies on the islands.

In fact O'Connor makes it clear that he is enough of a believer in the importance of clusters that he says "where we are already operating is where we intend to invest," saying in response to one of my questions that expansion in the Western U.S. outside of Washington is unlikely.

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Sound Publishing, as major owner of newspapers in region, gaining attention

Sound Publishing Inc., as the U.S. subsidiary of what has become the largest-circulation newspaper company in Western Canada, has itself quietly grown into the largest publisher of newspapers in Washington State. But Sound, with headquarters in both Bellevue and Poulsbo, is suddenly attracting attention.

 

Since the first of the year, Sound and its parent Black Press Ltd. have purchased the Seattle area operations of two high-visibility national companies, buying the Seattle Weekly from the Village Voice in January and the daily Everett Herald from the Washington Post Co. a few weeks later. The Herald deal is expected to close next month.

 

Attention those two deals have generated with the general public may be in the form of "who are these people," since Sound is known mostly to readers by the names of its local newspapers scattered across Western Washington, while for major media, the attention may be more like curiosity.

 

At a time when the print media is viewed as a dying industry, Sound and its Victoria, B.C.-based parent have focused on print and grown dramatically, publishing clusters of community weeklies. Each newspaper fulfills the company's mantra of local, local, local. And most are distributed as free newspapers to households and retail outlets in their communities.

 

CEO David Holmes Black began his newspaper-ownership career in 1975 with a small weekly in eastern British Columbia and has grown it to a 170-newspaper empire, founding Sound Publishing in 1987.

 

Sound is an independent operation in that while the final check for purchase of a property comes from the parent, the selection, negotiations and due diligence on an acquisition are carried out by the local executive leadership, which then incorporates the new acquisition into its operations.

 

In addition to his dramatic expansion as a buyer of small newspapers, Black has come to make a practice of occasionally buying newspapers from well-known but financially struggling national print-media players, as with The Weekly and The Herald.

Gloria Fletcher

Gloria Fletcher,

Sound President

 

Now Black has also "acquired" one of the most successful executives of major media companies to be president of Sound Publishing. Gloria Fletcher assumed her post at Sound last April with a resume that included major executive roles at two of the nation's most prominent publishing groups.

 

In addition to the Black Press flag replacing the Village Voice and Washington Post banners in Seattle and Everett, Black has taken over newspapers from McClatchy Newspapers, The Gannett Co. in Honolulu (making Black the major media factor in Hawaii), and Lee Enterprises. And he is personally one of a group of investors in the San Francisco Examiner, once the property of Hearst Corp.

 

When Fletcher assumed her post as president at Sound, whose publications have total circulation in Western Washington of just under 900,000, there was little visibility surrounding her arrival. That would be in keeping with the style of Black, who told a reporter a few years ago that there's no reason for him to be highly visible since his is a private company, and Sound, the Washington State subsidiary.

 

Fletcher, a 1984 honors graduate of the University of Oklahoma, earned her first publisher role at the age of 26 at her hometown daily newspaper in Woodward, OK, part of The American Publishing Co. chain that was acquired in 1999 by Community Newspaper Holdings, Inc.(CNHI).

 

CNHI sent Fletcher, then the mother of a 4 year old and a one year old, to be publisher in Enid, OK, as well as to be a vice president overseeing 38 publications in Oklahoma and the central Midwest. She was with CNHI from 1999 through 207, the period when it was acquiring and growing dramatically and Fletcher had a role in acquisitions.

 

When the president of CNHI moved in 2006 to GateHouse, a fast-growing new company that now has almost 100 daily newspapers and 200 weeklies, Fletcher joined GateHouse, moving to Missouri as vice president and overseer of some 80 newspapers across 14 states.

 

Asked during an interview about further acquisitions, Fletcher said "we have a lot of work to do now" and she doesn't anticipate more acqusitions "at this point."

 

Fletcher, her sons now 18 and 15, described her career this way: "While every aspect was somewhat the same, it was always different. And all of it has been a great adventure."

 

Asked about the purchase of the Seattle Weekly as a seemingly unusual one for Sound, Fletcher replied that "it reaches a mass of faithful readers and does it very well. We value what it is for the way it engages its readership."

 

"Our goal is to have people know our publications and be engaged readers," she adds.

 

She describes Sound Publishing as a company that has "quietly grown into a very important communications force in the Puget Sound area." But she adds that the company "isn't growing just to grow, but rather with all the specifics of success in mind."

 

Peter Horvitz, respected former owner and publisher of King County Journal Newspapers who sold his King County daily newspapers, and subsequently the Port Angeles Daily News, to Sound, would agree.

 

"Sound Publishing has been successful in assembling an impressive group of weekly and now daily newspapers in the Puget Sound region," says Horvitz, who fought for years to make a success of his daily newspapers in Bellevue and Kent against major metro competition.

 

"Seattle Weekly and the Everett Herald are great additions to their group of publications," Horvitz added. " David Black is a fearless businessman who sees value where others don't. He's been rewarded by his determination and vision."

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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To see previous Flynn's Harp columns, click here 

 

 

 

  

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

WSU President Floyd also clearly has his eye on online's broad prospects when he said: "With the launch of the WSU Global Campus last fall, we are working to ensure that students are engaged, connected and challenged in a highly personal, digital learning space."

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Sound Publishing Inc., as the U.S. subsidiary of what has become the largest-circulation newspaper company in Western Canada, has itself quietly grown into the largest publisher of newspapers in Washington State. But Sound, with headquarters in both Bellevue and Poulsbo, is suddenly attracting attention.

 

 

Since the first of the year, Sound and its parent Black Press Ltd. have purchased the Seattle area operations of two high-visibility national companies, buying the Seattle Weekly from the Village Voice in January and the daily Everett Herald from the Washington Post Co. a few weeks later. The Herald deal is expected to close next month.

 

Attention those two deals have generated with the general public may be in the form of "who are these people," since Sound is known mostly to readers by the names of its local newspapers scattered across Western Washington, while for major media, the attention may be more like curiosity.

 

At a time when the print media is viewed as a dying industry, Sound and its Victoria, B.C.-based parent have focused on print and grown dramatically, publishing clusters of community weeklies. Each newspaper fulfills the company's mantra of local, local, local. And most are distributed as free newspapers to households and retail outlets in their communities.

 

CEO David Holmes Black began his newspaper-ownership career in 1975 with a small weekly in eastern British Columbia and has grown it to a 170-newspaper empire, founding Sound Publishing in 1987.

 

Sound is an independent operation in that while the final check for purchase of a property comes from the parent, the selection, negotiations and due diligence on an acquisition are carried out by the local executive leadership, which then incorporates the new acquisition into its operations.

 

In addition to his dramatic expansion as a buyer of small newspapers, Black has come to make a practice of occasionally buying newspapers from well-known but financially struggling national print-media players, as with The Weekly and The Herald.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Gloria Fletcher

Gloria Fletcher,

Sound President

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Now Black has also "acquired" one of the most successful executives of major media companies to be president of Sound Publishing. Gloria Fletcher assumed her post at Sound last April with a resume that included major executive roles at two of the nation's most prominent publishing groups.

 

In addition to the Black Press flag replacing the Village Voice and Washington Post banners in Seattle and Everett, Black has taken over newspapers from McClatchy Newspapers, The Gannett Co. and Lee Enterprises. And he is personally one of a group of investors in the San Francisco Examiner, once the property of Hearst Corp.

 

Black owns the Akron, OH, Beacon-Journal, bought from McClatchy in 2006. He bought the Little Nickel classified publications from Lee Enterprises that same year, and his company became the major newspaper operator in Hawaii when he bought the two Honolulu dailies, one owned by Gannett Co., in late 2011.

 

When Fletcher assumed her post at Sound, whose publications have total circulation in Western Washington of just under 900,000, there was little visibility surrounding her arrival. That would be in keeping with the style of Black, who told a reporter a few years ago that there's no reason for him to be highly visible since his is a private company, and Sound, the Washington State subsidiary.

 

Fletcher, a 1984 honors graduate of the University of Oklahoma, earned her first publisher role at the age of 26 at her hometown daily newspaper in Woodward, OK, part of The American Publishing Co. chain that was acquired in 1999 by Community Newspaper Holdings, Inc.(CNHI).

 

CNHI sent Fletcher, then the mother of a 4 year old and a one year old, to be publisher in Enid, OK, as well as to be a vice president overseeing 38 publications in Oklahoma and the central Midwest. She was with CNHI from 1999 through 207, the period when it was acquiring and growing dramatically and Fletcher had a role in acquisitions.

 

When the president of CNHI moved in 2006 to GateHouse, a fast-growing new company that now has almost 100 daily newspapers and 200 weeklies, Fletcher joined GateHouse, moving to Missouri as vice president and overseer of some 80 newspapers across 14 states.

 

 

 

Asked during an interview about further acquisitions, Fletcher said "we have a lot of work to do now" and she doesn't anticipate more acqusitions "at this point."

 

Fletcher, her sons now 18 and 15, described her career this way: "While every aspect was somewhat the same, it was always different. And all of it has been a great adventure."

 

Asked about the purchase of the Seattle Weekly as a seemingly unusual one for Sound, Fletcher replied that "it reaches a mass of faithful readers and does it very well. We value what it is for the way it engages its readership."

 

"Our goal is to have people know our publications and be engaged readers," she adds.

 

She describes Sound Publishing as a company that has "quietly grown into a very important communications force in the Puget Sound area." But she adds that the company "isn't growing just to grow, but rather with all the specifics of success in mind."

 

Peter Horvitz, respected former owner and publisher of King County Journal Newspapers who sold his King County daily newspapers, and subsequently the Port Angeles Daily News, to Sound, would agree.

 

"Sound Publishing has been successful in assembling an impressive group of weekly and now daily newspapers in the Puget Sound region," says Horvitz, who fought for years to make a success of his daily newspapers in Bellevue and Kent against major metro competition.

 

 

"Seattle Weekly and the Everett Herald are great additions to their group of publications," Horvitz added. " David Black is a fearless businessman who sees value where others don't. He's been rewarded by his determination and vision."

 

 

 

 

  (Editor's Note: I have been a member of the national advisory board of the WSU College of Business for nine years)

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