City of Roses Puts Boise Weekly on the Block

Cites "Internal Strategic Reasons" for the Sale.

Less than 18 months after acquiring Boise Weekly and shepherding the paper through a significant redesign, City of Roses Newspaper Co. announced early this week that the nine-year-old publication is once again on the trading block.

Portland-based City of Roses, owner of that city’s Willamette Week as well as the Santa Fe Reporter, had become a three-paper chain with the February 2000 takeover of the southern Idaho weekly.

Although it increased circulation and ad revenue under City of Roses, Boise Weekly is not a moneymaker for the company, says Richard Meeker, publisher of Willamette Week and one of three partners in City of Roses, along with Editor Mark Zusman and VP of Sales and Advertising Russ Martineau. The Boise paper does slightly under $1 million in annual revenue, he says.

“It was losing money when we bought it, and it’s still losing money,” Meeker says. “But it’s losing significantly less, and it’s a much-improved paper.”

“We have essentially rebuilt that newspaper,” he says. “It is now on solid footing, and for internal strategic reasons that have nothing to do with Boise Weekly or Boise, the owners of City of Roses Newspaper Company have decided to sell Boise Weekly.”

Meeker isn’t saying what those “internal strategic reasons” are at this point. “Obviously, we’re not going to say a whole lot until we’ve got this transaction consummated,” he says.

The sale is expected to be completed toward the end of the summer, says Owen Van Essen of Dirks, Van Essen & Murray, the Santa Fe newspaper brokerage firm City of Roses has brought on to handle the sale.

City of Roses took over the Boise paper from Larry Ragan, who became owner and publisher in 1997. Ragan purchased the paper from Andy Hedden-Nicely, who founded the publication in 1992. Ragan retained a stake in the paper and continued as its publisher until last May, when he was replaced by current publisher Sean Flaherty.

Around the time of the ownership change, editor Sara Kuhl, a former Idaho Press-Tribune news editor, replaced Robert Speer, who resigned before the paper was sold to City of Roses. (Speer returned to his previous position as an editor for the Chico News & Review.)

“Sara inherited the staff, and they’ve done really great work,” says Flaherty. “We’ve been through an awful lot in the last year in trying to reposition the paper. It’s got a stronger content, stronger design. Our ad sales are up.”

Boise Weekly recently won nine first-place awards from the Idaho Press Club.

The paper’s arts coverage and presentation were key parts of its October redesign, Flaherty says.

“It’s a design that’s really supposed to highlight the great things about Boise, particularly in our arts and culture section,” Flaherty said. “Entertainment is better. I think we’ve got more encapsulated reviews. It really changed how people look at the information on what’s going on downtown. And there’s a little bit different presentation on the news and how we approached the handling of that, but for the most part it was the overall look of the paper and how the back of the book and the entertainment section was structured.”

Flaherty says the paper now has a more “urban sensibility” and is experiencing its lowest return rates in years.

“It’s clear that it’s vital to people, because the paper sells out by the weekend,” he says.

As for the future under new ownership?

“We don’t anticipate any changes,” said Flaherty. “We’re going to try and do the good stuff that we’re doing and hope that excites people.”

John Ferri is a freelance writer based in Tacoma, Wash.

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