The 44-year old Los Angeles Downtown News is up for sale, and while that might signal the end of an era, it’s also a sign of the times.
The paper, which was put on the block two months ago by Sue Laris, its longtime owner, editor, and publisher, could join a string of L.A.-area publications to trade hands over the last year, along with similar-size outlets in other markets.
Laris owns 100 percent of the company after she bought the shares owned by Jim Laris, her ex-husband and the former owner and publisher of the Pasadena Weekly, as part of the couple’s 1979 divorce.
She faces a land-scape in which news-paper mergers are on the rise, but valuations are not.
“In general, the market essentially for print in all its forms is flattening,” said news industry analyst and columnist Ken Doctor of Harvard University’s Nieman Journalism Lab.
Doctor noted that while daily newspapers have been declining for the past 10 years – suffering print ad revenue losses of roughly 10 percent or more each year – alternative news weeklies and other hyperlocal print publications such as the Downtown News aren’t suffering quite as much.
Still, he cautioned, they’re not doing well.
If recent history is any judge, the Downtown News could prove attractive to a local investor. In February, Denver-based Voice Media Group sold alternative newspaper OC Weekly to Fountain Valley’s Duncan McIntosh Co., owner of Boating World, Editor & Publisher, and other magazines, for an undisclosed amount. Meanwhile, the parent company of the Santa Clarita Valley Signal was acquired by Paladin Multi-Media Group Inc., registered at a home in Westlake Village, at the end of last year from Morris Multimedia Inc. of Savannah, Ga.
“Downtown News would better fit into a group of weeklies or with someone with a daily and a group of weeklies,” said Lloyd Greif, chief executive of downtown investment firm Greif & Co. “That offers an opportunity to create synergies with other titles and from an advertising perspective, more opportunities for package deals.”
One potential contender could be Pasadena-based Southland Publishing Co., which owns other local and regional papers including the Pasadena Weekly, The Argonaut, and the Ventura County Reporter, according to Greif.
Weeklies are typically valued at a multiple of three to five times earnings, said Doctor, with the exact ratio dependent on how well the paper has adapted to offset losses in print advertising with other revenue streams, such as live events and an expanded digital footprint.
Laris asked readers in 2012 to make voluntary monthly donations to the Downtown News, which is free at newsstands, of $5 or more to make up for lost ad dollars. According to its media kit, recent advertisers range from local developers and architecture firms to local retail and entertainment venues such as Grand Central Market and AEG’s L.A. Live.
Its current financial situation could not be determined and Laris declined to discuss the sales effort.
Lon Williams of Atlanta-based Media America Brokers is representing Laris in marketing the property, according to a statement posted on the Downtown News website in September. Laris said in her previous statement that the Downtown News prints 40,000 papers a week and is distributed to nearly 800 locations in 16 neighborhoods around Los Angeles. She also touted the paper’s “vibrant website” – which averages about 150,000 unique visitors a month, according to its media kit – along with its weekend newsletter and social media presence. The Downtown News has a combination of about 80,000 followers on Facebook and Twitter.
Even with healthy social numbers, print faces serious challenges.
A June report from the Pew Research Center says circulation at even the country’s top weekly papers continues to decrease. Between 2014 and last year, circulation numbers fell by 11 percent on average among the top 20 papers in terms of circulation – the largest drop since 2011.
“It’s been an institution for many years,” Robert Hernandez, professor of journalism at USC’s Annenberg School of Journalism, said of the Downtown News. “I do think it can and should be bought by a digital person driven by hyperlocal news serving the community.”
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