Friday, February 29, 2008

Wood River Journal for sale

Ketchum real estate agent heads effort to bring paper into local ownership

Express Staff Writer

John Sofro

The Wood River Journal is for sale, and local Realtor and developer John Sofro is trying to form a group of local investors to buy it.

"It was my idea (to buy it)," said Sofro, in a Thursday interview. "I got a phone call saying the paper was available, and I was interested. I certainly have no intention of buying it on my own. I think the community needs to own this paper, not John Sofro or any other individual."

In a Wednesday, Feb. 27, opinion article in the Journal, a group of in-house writers and prospective owners teamed up to announce that a consortium of local residents and business interests hopes to purchase the paper from its parent company, Davenport, Iowa-based Lee Enterprises.

Sofro said the goal is to keep two viable newspapers in the Wood River Valley.

"That's why I'm doing it," he said. "I think the Express is a fabulous publication with great reporters, a great publisher and editors, and I want to see the Journal rise up to that level at some point. That's why I'm doing it. I just think it's in the best interest of the community to have two sources of newsprint."

Since 1974, the Hailey-based Wood River Journal has been sold or traded to a succession of regional chains, national chains and local owners including the Standard Corp. of Ogden, Utah; Clint Stennett; Park Acquisitions Inc.; Media General; Community Newspaper Holdings; Liberty Group; and Lee Enterprises. It has changed hands on average once every five years.

The Idaho Mountain Express, the only other newspaper in Blaine County, has been in continuous local ownership over the same period. It now employs 45 full- and part-time employees. Five of its seven owner/board members live in the Wood River Valley. Four work at the newspaper. All have been part of the company since at least 1977.

The board includes Martha Page, Curtis Page, both residing in Indiana, Evelyn Phillips, Connie Johnson, Jeff Cordes, Elaine Somerville and Pam Morris. Both Morris and Martha Page were born and raised in Idaho. The Pages spend time in the valley every year.

"We're part of the community," said Publisher Pam Morris. "We employ 45 local people who make their livings here. Most are active in local groups and non-profits."

The Journal opinion article stated that real estate broker Dan Gorham, past publisher of the publication, is the selling agent for the transaction and has agreed to serve as an advisor for the investment group. Sofro said he hopes to close the deal by the beginning of April if things go according to plan.

Journal Publisher Trey Spaulding said he is among the investors interested in buying the paper, but neither he nor Sofro wanted to comment about other potential investors.

Spaulding said Sofro will not be the majority shareholder. Rather, the plan is to have a diverse ownership that's representative of the community, he said.

One Lee Enterprises spokesperson declined to comment on the proposed sale. A call to a second Lee public relations employee was not returned before the Express' press deadline.

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