Ragan: Boise Weekly Future Bright Under New Owners

Paper Will Benefit from Willamette Week's Financial Stability and Publishing Experience.

Willamette Week’s parent company, Portland, Oregon’s, City of Roses Newspaper Co., last month announced that it had acquired AAN member Boise Weekly. On February 1, City of Roses joined Weekly Publisher Larry Ragan as a co-owner of the Boise paper. Ragan will continue as Publisher.

Willamette Week Publisher Richard Meeker says that at last year’s AAN convention, he and his partners began talking to Ragan about buying the Weekly. However, the deal didn’t firm up until later that summer, when Willamette Week’s Vice President of Sales and Marketing, Russ Martineau, gave Ragan a hard sell he couldn’t resist. “He’s got to be one of the best sales people in the industry,” says Ragan.

A seven-year Weekly veteran, Ragan became the sole owner and acting publisher three years ago when he purchased the paper from original publisher Andy Hedden-Nicely, who founded the paper in 1992.

Ragan cites City of Roses’ financial stability and publishing expertise as the primary reasons he ceded part ownership to his new partners in Portland. “It’s tough to [run the paper] alone, financially,” he says. “I’m not really a publisher by trade. Andy and I kind of fell into [the publishing business]. If we were going to get over the hump in Boise, I needed some advice.”

Ragan says the influx of resources will help him grow the paper faster and provide better working conditions for his employees. For instance, a new 401(k) plan will be instituted under the new owners. “You want people to move up a little faster, get better salaries, et cetera,” he says. “I wanted a faster curve for them and for myself. I have to make this thing work.”

In addition to deeper pockets, Ragan plans to draw on his new partners’ years of experience in the newspaper business. In fact, he’s already received a crash course in design and production. Willamette Week, critically acclaimed for its groundbreaking redesign, sent an art director to Boise for three months of observation and planning with editorial and sales. “We’ve had no art director, ever,” says Ragan. “It’s tough to be the editor and design the paper every week.”

In time, Ragan expects his new partners to provide expertise in strategic planning that will help him revolutionize Boise Weekly’s entire publishing process. “I can see where we were thinking [short term]. I’m sure we were a comedy act in a lot of ways. We were duct-taping it through life,” he says of the paper’s early production ethos. “[City of Roses said,] ‘We can look to the future and get you there a lot quicker.'”

According to Meeker, Boise Weekly was attractive because it is a young paper in a growing city. Like its Pacific Northwest neighbors, Boise has attracted a growing number of computer and information technology companies like Hewlett-Packard and the Boise-based PC and memory chip maker, Micron Technology.

The regional proximity of the two cities was also a benefit to City of Roses, whose previous acquisition was the Santa Fe Reporter, which it bought in 1997. After racking up frequent flyer miles traveling to New Mexico and back, the short hop to Boise looks like a trip around the block to Willamette Week executives. Meanwhile, Ragan is happy to be paper number three in the City of Roses lineup. “We’re lucky to be the second child. We’ll benefit a lot from their experience in Santa Fe.”

Although he had to quell some anxiety when the deal was announced, Ragan says his staff is “very upbeat.” He says they now recognize that he “wasn’t looking to put a Willamette Week in Boise.”

Not everyone emerged unscathed, however. Ragan reports that Boise Weekly’s controller and one part-time designer were both laid off.

Nevertheless, Ragan believes that his new partners will do what’s best for him and his staff. “There’s no ‘New Times’ going on here,” he jokes. “They’re not going to shut us down. They’re not coming in just to throw money at the thing, but they are willing to see the certain advantages to applying their experience here.”

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