Juneau Empire to get new owner as parent company faces revenue loss

a newspaper box
A Juneau Empire newspaper box, photographed on Wednesday, Jan. 17, 2024. (Katie Anastas/KTOO)

Black Press Media, the owner of three Alaska newspapers, is seeking a new owner as it restructures its finances. The Canadian company’s U.S. branch, Sound Publishing, owns the Juneau Empire, the Peninsula Clarion and the Homer News.

Boyd Erman, a spokesperson for Black Press, didn’t answer questions about whether the Alaska papers would continue to publish long-term or whether layoffs were planned. But he said the company plans to continue publishing its newspapers during the restructuring process.

“The purchasers and the company are committed to continue providing journalism excellence and outstanding advertising solutions to the many communities that Black Press serves,” Erman wrote in an email.

Along with the three papers in Alaska, Black Press publishes 94 newspapers in Canada, 35 newspapers and websites in Washington and six newspapers in Hawaii.

The proposed buyers are Carpenter Media Group, which operates newspapers throughout the southern U.S., and two Canadian investors. Black Press has filed for creditor protection in Canada, which allows them to come up with a plan to pay off debt under court supervision and avoid bankruptcy.

Across the country, local news has shrunk as investment firms buy newspaper chains. Large chains like Gannett have made headlines for laying off staff. Regional chains have bought newspapers and closed or merged others. More than 2,800 newspapers have closed since 2004, with the number of journalists working at local newspapers dropping by 60%.

The Juneau Empire began publishing in 1912, as the Alaska Daily Empire. Last spring, Sound Publishing stopped local daily printing of the Empire and the Peninsula Clarion. Instead, both papers are now printed twice a week — the Empire in Washington. 

The Empire’s staff has also shrunk over the last several years. In 2017, the paper had a managing editor, a digital editor, a state reporter, a crime and courts reporter, a city reporter, a general assignment reporter and a photographer. In 2021, there were four newsroom staff, and the paper moved its offices from Channel Drive to the Jordan Creek Center. Now, the paper has one editor and one reporter. 

Editors for the three Alaska papers and their publisher declined to comment on Black Press Media’s potential sale.

The company’s announcement came on the same day that founder David Black announced his retirement. In a press release, his family thanked the company’s employees, readers and advertisers for their support of community news.

“The Black family is confident that the restructuring of Black Press announced today will be successful and enable Black Press to continue to provide high quality community journalism, and that the proposed new owners will be excellent stewards of Black Press’ treasured publications,” the release read.

Case documents say the company’s earnings “have steadily fallen” over the last decade, as print readership has declined and advertising revenue has dropped.

“The Company has limited remaining cash on hand and is unable to make payments on its secured funded debt obligations as they become due,” the documents say

According to case documents, Black Press Media’s sale is expected to happen by March 15.

KDLL’s Riley Board contributed reporting.

Correction: The Peninsula Clarion is printed twice a week in Anchorage, not Washington.

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