A Swift takeover and valley media changes | AspenTimes.com

A Swift takeover and valley media changes

John Colson

The Roaring Fork Valley’s media scene was abruptly reshuffled on Friday when a Nevada-based corporation wound up owning nearly all the newspapers in the region.

The biggest question now facing a host of newspaper readers is, what happens next? Will some of the less profitable publications be shut down in the kind of downsizing and consolidation that often characterizes corporate mergers and takeovers?

According to the top official of the company that now controls all newspapers but one in this region, the answer is no.

The chairman of the board of Swift Newspapers, the Reno, Nev.-based company that last week bought out all the Western Slope papers owned by Morris Communications of Augusta, Ga., said Sunday that he has no plans to close down any of the papers that are still operating.

Swift, owner of The Aspen Times, now owns almost all of the newspapers in the Roaring Fork Valley and its environs, ending a newspaper war that began three years ago when Morris began buying newspapers and consolidating a growing empire.

Swift entered the fray when it bought The Aspen Times and the Glenwood Independent a year ago, and reportedly there have been negotiations between the two corporations for nearly a year. According to insiders familiar with the talks, they included everything from the sale of Swift’s entire media family to a merger of some sort between the two corporations, before Morris finally gave in and sold its Colorado properties off.

The deal means that Swift now owns all but one of the newspapers in the valley, the sole exception being the Aspen Daily News, as well as papers in Rifle, Eagle, Vail, Frisco and Leadville.

The various papers will fall under the management of regional directors in Aspen, Glenwood Springs and Vail. The Aspen group will include The Times and the Snowmass Sun; the Glenwood group includes The Roaring Fork Sunday in Basalt, the Valley Journal in Carbondale, the new Glenwood Post-Independent and the Bargain Hunter in Glenwood Springs, and the Citizen-Telegram in Rifle. The Vail group controls papers in Eagle, Vail, Frisco and Leadville.

The biggest initial ramification of the buyout, observers agree, was the merging of the Glenwood Independent (which Swift owned) and the 110-year-old Glenwood Post (which Morris had owned for three years) into a new publication that is now all of three days old – The Glenwood Post-Independent.

As it did when it purchased The Aspen Times and the Glenwood Independent a year ago, Swift essentially fired all the employees at its new properties and then offered some of those employees a job under the new regime. As a result, some 43 employees company-wide found themselves without jobs last Friday afternoon, roughly 30 of them in Glenwood Springs.

But when asked whether any of the newspapers themselves, particularly the smaller ones, might be facing the same fate, Swift chairman Dick Larson said he has no such plans, nor do the regional directors in charge of the newspaper groups.

“I see no possibility that any of these communities’ newspapers would be set for closure,” Larson said, explaining that “what’s next is probably the biggest challenge [for Swift]; to live up to the responsibility of owning the newspapers in all these communities.”

He said the various weeklies and dailies “certainly have a clearly identified readership with their own local interests that cannot be met by papers such as The Aspen Times or the Glenwood Post-Independent.”

The smaller papers, he said, “may need some care and feeding, they may need a little stabilizing, from what I’ve seen. Some of them, I understand, have had a fair amount of turnover.”

And, he continued, “It’s up to those individual newspapers to do the things they they’ve got to do” to hold onto and satisfy their readership.

“This is a difficult thing,” acknowledged Larson, concerning the relatively sudden takeover of so many newspapers. “This is a tremendous concentration of community newspapers under one ownership.” The sale means Swift now owns nearly 30 dailies, weeklies and twice-weeklies in Colorado, Oregon, Nevada and California.

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