Hanford Sentinel, other California papers, sold

The Hanford Sentinel has been sold by Lee Enterprises to a Canadian company, Santa Maria News Media Inc., a newly formed company led by a group of Canadian newspaper executives.  The sale also included the Santa Maria Times, The Lompoc Record, and Santa Ynez Valley News.

The acquisition of The Sentinel, a newspaper founded in 1891, marks the third time since 1996 that the paper has been sold. Pulitzer bought the Sentinel and 15 other daily and 30 non-daily newspapers from Scripps League in 1996.

Lee Enterprises purchased the 14 daily newspapers in 2005 for $1.5 billion as part of the Pulitzer acquisition. The Sentinel has fallen on hard times since that purchase. In 2011 The Sentinel filed for bankruptcy, according to the U.S. Bankruptcy Court in Delaware.

One thing is clear: The new Canadian owners of The Hanford Sentinel have an elusive business background.

The executives associated with Santa Maria News Media Inc., and their sister companies who share the same executives, are on a buying spree, acquiring more than 27 newspapers in California, Rhode Island, and Massachusetts at a time when U.S. newspaper revenue is expected to continue to decline for the next five years.

In 2016 total U.S. newspaper revenue was $27.84 billion.

According to a press release put out by the Santa Maria Times, “Santa Maria News Media Inc. is a newly formed company led by a group of Canadian newspaper executives with a stated commitment to local journalism. The new owners have newspapers throughout Canada and the United States. Their California newspapers include the Bakersfield Californian, Sonora Union Democrat, Porterville Recorder, Marysville Appeal-Democrat, Imperial Valley Press, Lodi News-Sentinel and the Antelope Valley Press.”

Regarding the sale of the central California newspapers, The Sentinel referred all questions to Terri Leifeste, a regional executive who did not respond to a request for comment.

Santa Maria News Media is listed as a foreign company with Melanie Walsh as president, according to the California Secretary of State’s office. Its address at 1120 N. Carbon St. in Marion, Ill. appears to be in a shopping center, according to Google Maps.

Walsh is reportedly the daughter of David Radler, according to an article by LA Times writer Julia Wick. This could not be confirmed independently at the time of publication.

Radler was the right-hand man of Conrad Black, who controlled Hollinger International, once the third largest English language newspaper company.

Radler is the former publisher of the Chicago Sun-Times, which at one time was controlled by Hollinger. Both Radler and Black served prison sentences for fraud. Black, a friend of President Trump, was pardoned by Trump in 2019. At issue in Black’s case was the diversion of money due Hollinger investors for personal benefit in connection with the sale of certain assets.

In July 2019 the Bakersfield Californian, a family-owned paper that also dates to the 19th century, was bought by Sound California News Media, which also lists Walsh as chief executive officer, according to the California Secretary of State’s office. Part of the sale included Bakersfield Life magazine, the Delano Record newspaper, Kern Business Journal and the Tehachapi News, according to the Californian.

If the acquisition of the Bakersfield Californian is any indication, there may not be any dramatic changes in the news operation of the newly acquired papers.

Subscriber Tom Frantz said the paper does not seem that much different then when it was owned by the Harrell-Fritts family. It doesn’t seem to be slanted and has not taken a turn to the extreme right, he said.

Longtime Californian opinion writer Robert Price said when he worked at the Bakersfield Californian under the new owners he didn’t experience any directions to write or not write a certain thing.

The publisher is Cliff Chandler, who had worked at the paper prior to the July 1, 2019 acquisition by Sound California News Media Inc., said Price. The paper did not return a call and an email requesting comment.

Sound News Media is also administered by Steven Malkowich, a veteran news executive.

In 2015 Malkowich was mentioned in press releases regarding the sale of the Lodi News Sentinel; in 2017, similar mentions were made regarding the sale of the Antelope Valley Press.

Lodi Publisher Marty Weybret said when he sold the paper in 2015 he dealt directly with Malkowich but never knew who his investors were. “He very conspicuously did not want to show me how his organization worked,” Weybret said. Weybret said Malkowich “kept referring to Radler” but never confirmed what role he played in the company, or if he even had a formal role. The people who bought the Lodi paper are experienced, old-time newspaper people, Weybret said.

Malkowich is also involved in the Rhode Island Suburban Newspapers group, with papers in Rhode Island and Connecticut. The Rhode Island Suburban Newspaper group also owns the Porterville Recorder and the Imperial Valley Press in California.

Walsh is also listed in filings with the California Secretary of State involving Vista California News Media, which bought the Marysville Appeal-Democrat and the Tri-County Newspaper in Glenn, Tehama and Colusa counties.

Another listing shows Malkowich’s involvement in local papers in Massachusetts.

Malkowich is also an executive with the Alta Newspaper Group which publishes the Lethbridge Herald, a 15,000 circulation daily newspaper in southern Alberta, Canada, according to the newspaper’s website. A call to him there was not returned.

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