U-T Community Press group buys La Jolla Light
From La Jolla Light and U-T reports
U-T San Diego affiliate U-T Community News, LLC, bought MainStreet Communications’ eight San Diego-area community newspapers and their websites, it was announced Friday, Nov. 1. The transaction included acquisition of La Jolla Light, Del Mar Times, Poway News Chieftain, Rancho Bernardo News Journal, Solana Beach Sun, Carmel Valley News, Rancho Santa Fe Review and Ramona Sentinel.
The U-T created a new division, U-T Community Press, to operate the papers. Phyllis Pfeiffer, current group publisher of MainStreet Communications’ San Diego publications, will continue to lead the collection as vice president and general manager of U-T Community Press.
The acquisition is part of an overall strategy to better serve the San Diego community through publishing hyper- local news that complements the more regional reporting of the flagship newspaper, U-T San Diego.
“Acquisition of the La Jolla Light is particularly special to me. As a long-time resident of La Jolla and having raised my family here, it is especially rewarding to welcome the Light into the U-T San Diego organization,” said U-T San Diego Publisher Douglas Manchester.
“We are thrilled to be taking on the stewardship of these community newspapers,” Manchester said. “We believe that community news is one of the hallmarks of strong local newspapers, and we intend to continue this legacy for many years to come. With these papers as a template, our strategy will be to launch additional community papers in San Diego’s larger communities and neighborhoods.
U-T San Diego CEO John Lynch described a vision of weekly publications across the county, stretching from Chula Vista to Coronado to Vista. The community newspapers will operate with separate staffs supported by the U-T San Diego newsroom.
Terms of the deal were not disclosed. Lynch said the U-T can help the recently acquired papers grow by backing them with infrastructure such as IT support, ad services and delivery efficiencies that would be expensive for the papers individually.
“I think that so many of these newspapers, if they stand on their own, are going to have a tough time existing three, four, five years from now,” Lynch said. “This gives us such a strong base of operations here in San Diego, we’re going to have a very strong company for years to come.”
Pfeiffer agreed, adding, “With the resources of U-T San Diego ownership, we believe we can be more effective than ever in serving our local communities. We look forward to expanding our reach and building upon our brand of news.”
Advertising in the community publications is expected to be offered by U-T San Diego as part of its integrated media portfolio.
Alan Mutter, a media consultant and teacher at the University of California, Berkeley, said the move allows the U-T to reach the sweet spot in the industry:
publishing news and advertising that is targeted at highly concentrated local communities. The trick will be for each weekly to remain authentic, he said, noting that readers must see that it is still covering the community and not simply piping in news from wire news services.
Pfeiffer said the La Jolla Light (which is celebrating its 100th anniversary this year) returns to local ownership for the first time since 1972, when the McKinnon family sold the Light to Harte-Hanks Communications, Inc.
The U-T isn’t the only major metropolitan newspaper to own weeklies in its home region. The Orange County Register operates 23 community newspapers.
MainStreet Communications, LLC formed in 2009 when the ownership of the La Jolla Light, Del Mar Times and Solana Beach Sun merged with the group that owned the Rancho Santa Fe Review and Carmel Valley News. MainStreet was owned by two private equity firms — The Brookside Group, of Greenwich, Conn., and Housatonic Partners of San Francisco.
Lynch said community papers such as the La Jolla Light and Rancho Santa Fe Review are largely supported by real estate ads and businesses that need to reach only one or two ZIP codes. He said the U-T is considering adding an automotive section to each of the papers for more advertising opportunities. The eight weekly newspapers have a total circulation of 99,431 copies.
The MainStreet Communications purchase is the second acquisition of a local news organization since U-T Publisher Manchester acquired The San Diego Union- Tribune in November 2011. In October 2012, the U-T purchased the North County Times from Lee Enterprises for $11.95 million. That paper has since been integrated into the U-T. But Lynch said the eight MainStreet newspapers would remain independently operated.
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