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COURSEY: Newspaper ownership is community-wide

In this economy, it's no surprise to hear of a business being sold or merged or downsized or just plain closed outright. It's what happens when times are tough.

But when that business is one that comes into your home every day, instead of you going to it, any change becomes very personal.

That's the reaction to Monday's announcement that The Press Democrat soon will have new ownership.

Employees of the paper are naturally on tenterhooks about what will happen next. Payroll is usually a business's largest expense, and new owners usually are looking to pare down expenses as soon as they walk in the door. As my old friend and colleague Chris Smith wrote in today's paper, news of the sale caused "knotty stomachs" for those who work for the PD and its sister publications the Petaluma Argus-Courier and the North Bay Business Journal.

But it also disturbed many in the community who feel their own kind of ownership for the publication (or, increasingly, website) that keeps them in touch with so much of what happens in their home town. Expressions of concern and in some cases even grief (along with plenty of snarky digs at the paper and its journalists) peppered Facebook and Twitter feeds on Monday. Friends on the street stopped to ask what this means to the future of a community institution that is, if not beloved, a comfortable companion to daily life in Sonoma County.

There's no solid answer yet to that question, but that doesn't stop people from speculating. Those who want to back up that speculation with some actual facts (as usual, a small percentage) looked first to the editorial pages of the Daytona Beach News-Journal. That Florida paper is owned by Halifax Media Holdings LLC, the company buying the PD and other publications now owned by the New York Times' Regional Media Group.

On Monday, you could find on that paper's op-ed page a defense of the Bush Administration's claim that the war in Iraq was necessary because of the presence of weapons of mass destruction in that country. Today, the paper's lead editorial supports the 1,700-mile Keystone XL oil pipeline project and urges its approval as part of a bill to extend the payroll tax cut.

Aha! It's a conservative newspaper, the journalistic gumshoes conclude. Well, no kidding. Daytona Beach is a conservative town. Its Republican Congressman, John Mica, has had a stranglehold on his seat since 1993, almost as long as our Democratic Rep. Lynn Woolsey.

So maybe the N-J's editorial page reflects the values of the community it serves, much as the PD's editorial page strives to do here. There's nothing surprising about that.

More disturbing than what the N-J prints on its opinion pages is what reporter Kevin McCallum dug up for his story about the sale on today's Page 1 of the PD. McCallum reported that when Halifax bought the Daytona Beach paper, it immediately cut staff by 10 percent and the new publisher wrote an open letter announcing that the paper's editorials would reflect an agenda championing "free enterprise, individual rights and responsibilities and the importance of community involvement."


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