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Mercer Island Reporter owner sold to Canadian media chain

Peter Horvitz, publisher of King County Journal Newspapers, announced Wednesday that his family has agreed to sell the company to a Canadian publishing company for an undisclosed amount.

The King County Journal newspapers own the Mercer Island Reporter.

The sale of the company to Victoria, British Columbia-based Black Press Ltd. will close on Nov. 30.

King County Journal Newspapers publishes the daily King County Journal and several weekly and twice-monthly Reporter newspapers, as well as the Snoqualmie Valley Record. The company employs 328 people.

Horvitz declined to discuss Black’s plans for King County Journal Newspapers, saying that that decision was up to the new owners.

Horvitz told employees in Kent late Wednesday afternoon that he was announcing the impending sale sooner than planned in response to widespread rumors circulating among Journal staff via e-mail about Black’s possible plans to shut down the daily King County Journal.

According to the rumor, which Horvitz declined to confirm or deny, the King County Journal would be replaced with a paper published several times a week. It would also continue to publish King County Journal Newspapers’ various weekly and twice-monthly publications. Horvitz first announced the paper was for sale last June.

The sale does not include the Peninsula Daily News in Port Angeles or The Daily Times in Maryville, Tenn., which Horvitz Newspapers will continue to own.

The King County Journal has been losing money for a number of years, unlike the Reporter papers such as the Mercer Island Reporter, which Horvitz said are profitable.

The King County Journal’s weekday circulation now stands at approximately 39,000 copies, down from 47,000 in 2003 when the paper was created through a merger of the daily Eastside Journal and South County Journal papers.

An attractive part of King County Journal Newspapers is its $20 million printing plant in Kent, which opened in 2003 and which is also used to print publications for commercial customers including Investor’s Business Daily.

Black Press Ltd. is the owner of more than 100 community publications throughout Western Canada and the United States.

Black is the parent company for Bainbridge Island-based Sound Publishing, which already owns several suburban newspapers in Kitsap, Island, King, Pierce and San Juan counties. Most of those newspapers are published one to three times a week.

Black Press, however, does own two daily newspapers: the Honolulu Star-Bulletin, which it purchased in 2001, and the Akron Beacon Journal, which it bought earlier this year.

When he announced his company's plans to purchase the Akron Beacon Journal in June, Black Press CEO David Black said in an article published in the Star-Bulletin that owning two dailies in the United States could enhance his company's ability to meet the needs of its U.S. employees and readers.

Black, in the Star-Bulletin article, also said his company believes in focusing on “local journalism of high quality.”

Sound Publishing in September acquired the Little Nickel and Nickel Ads Classifieds, free shopper publications based in Lynnwood and Portland, Ore.

David Grant, a King County Journal reporter who also serves as the union representative for 25 newsroom and advertising workers at the company’s Bellevue offices, expressed hope that “Black Press will continue to put out the King County Journal as a daily paper and that all employees will retain their jobs.”

“Everyone who works (for) the Journal has made significant sacrifices as the current ownership has laid off employees and implemented a wage freeze over the past three years,” Grant wrote in a statement issued following the announcement of the sale.

“Members of the (Pacific Northwest Newspaper) Guild welcome Black Press and we look forward to working with the new owners to produce the best daily paper in the region, serve readers with great journalism and return the company to profitability.”

When Black in June announced his company's plans to purchase the Akron Beacon Journal, he informed employees at that paper in a memo that there would be no layoffs. However, the paper on Nov. 2 reported that it cut 85 jobs the previous three months in a restructuring move that will include the departure of top editor Debra Adams Simmons. The Beacon Journal, which has 640 workers including 120 in the newsroom, said there are no further plans for reductions.

Frank Bridgewater, editor of the Star-Bulletin in Honolulu, said his paper has not had any significant layoffs and that Black “invested a lot when he bought us” in 2001.

Bridgewater added that Black is “very hands off,” when it comes to the newsroom. “(Black) trusts us to know our local communities best,” he said.

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King County Journal chronology

* 1976: The Journal American in Bellevue was launched by Longview Publishing Co. after its purchase of two community papers, the twice-weekly Bellevue American and the weekly East Side Journal in Kirkland. The JA, which began as a twice-weekly, switched to five days a week later that year and became a full-fledged seven-day-a-week paper in 1982.

* 1986: The JA was sold to Honolulu-based Persis Corp.

* 1989: Persis buys the Valley Daily News in Kent.

* 1994: Persis sells its Bellevue-based newspaper division, which includes the Journal American, Valley Daily News and five sister publications, to the Harry R. Horvitz family of Cleveland. Peter Horvitz, the 40-year-old son of the late Harry R. Horvitz, and former publisher of the Gannett Co.-owned Marin Independent Journal, was named CEO of Horvitz Newspapers and publisher of the JA.

* 1996: Horvitz changes the papers’ names to the Eastside Journal and South County Journal.

* 2003: The Eastside Journal and South County Journal are combined to create the King County Journal. The company also completes its $20 million state-of-the-art printing plant in Kent.

* June 2006: Horvitz announces his family is putting King County Journal Newspapers up for sale.

* Nov. 22: Horvitz announces that the company is being sold to Victoria, B.C.-based Black Press Ltd. for an undisclosed amount through Black's U.S. subsidiary, Sound Publishing Inc., which is based on Bainbridge Island. The sale is scheduled to close Nov. 30.

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