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After 128 years, Lynch family steps away from Sonoma newspaper business


Bill Lynch's ancestors look down from their photographs on the walls of his office at the Sonoma Index-Tribune, the award-winning community newspaper his family has owned for 128 years.

That era came to an end Friday, as Lynch and his brother, Jim, gave up their jobs as co-publishers in favor of retirement, turning over the twice-weekly newspaper to a new partnership.

"They're glaring down at me the last six months," Bill Lynch said, jokingly referring to images of his father, Robert Lynch, and great-grandfather, Harry Granice, who acquired the newspaper in 1884.

The brothers, fourth-generation owners who both have worked more than 40 years at the paper, will retain a small interest in the partnership.

But they are stepping away from daily operations after selling a controlling interest in the Index-Tribune to a new partnership that includes a high-powered political lobbyist and the newspaper's editor, who says no major changes are in store.

Bill Lynch said he has "mixed feelings" about giving up control of the paper — and the antique oak rolltop desk in the publisher's office he took over from his father in 2003.

If he could talk to his ancestors, Lynch said he would explain that the next generation of family members was not willing to carry the mantle.

"The ownership is going to stay local," Jim Lynch said. "It's time for us to move on and let somebody else give it a shot."

The six-person partnership includes Darius Anderson, a well-connected lobbyist and developer who lives in Sonoma and who plans to build a $30 million boutique hotel behind the paper's office near the Sonoma Plaza.

The paper, which comes out on Tuesdays and Fridays, has played a prominent role in the life of Sonoma, which prides itself on its history and small-town character, while also attracting tourists from around the world.

That identity is reflected in news coverage, from local meetings and high school games to major social and political issues. The paper has backed construction of youth athletic fields, the Sonoma Valley Hospital, the Valley of the Moone Boys & Girls Club and a local senior center.

Janet Nicholas, a former Sonoma County supervisor representing the Sonoma Valley, said she hoped the Index-Tribune would continue its role as "a community bulletin board" and advocate for community improvement.

The paper's reporting on local sports teams and school reading contests "gives children and their families great joy," Nicholas said, and is "news that would never fit in a large city newspaper."

The late Robert Lynch, publisher of the Index-Tribune for 57 years before his death in 2003, was "a pillar of the community," Nicholas said.

In 1999, he was named one of Sonoma County's 50 most influential citizens by The Press Democrat.

David Bolling, Index-Tribune editor since 2006 and now publisher, said it will continue to be "the newspaper of record" for Sonoma Valley.

"We are proud of what the Index-Tribune has been," Bolling said, noting the paper has won more state and national award plaques than it can fit on its walls.

"There is no mandate to do anything different," he said.

Bolling will run the paper, with a staff of about 20 people, jointly with Bill Hooper, the new chief operating officer.

Bolling, Hooper and the Lynches, along with Darius and Sarah Anderson, are partners in newly formed Sonoma Media Investments LLC, the paper's new owner.

Anderson, an aide to former North Coast Rep. Doug Bosco more than 20 years ago, is founder and CEO of Kenwood Investments, a real estate development firm, and Platinum Advisors, a Sacramento lobbying firm. Hooper is president of Kenwood Investments.

Financial terms of the transaction were not disclosed under an agreement by all partners, Bolling and Bill Lynch said.

The Andersons own an antique store and the Ramekins culinary school and event center in Sonoma and plan to build the upscale 50-room hotel on land they have optioned from the Lynches.

Negotiations over the land transaction brought the Lynches and Anderson together at the same time the brothers were seeking a succession plan for the paper's ownership, Bill Lynch said.

No fifth-generation ownership was possible, as Bill, 69, and Jim, 63, decided to retire after decades of working in almost all capacities at the paper.

The digital media wave has crimped the paper industry, Jim Lynch said.

"It's been a little tight, (but) we haven't gone broke," he said.

Three of their sons previously worked at the newspaper, but chose other careers.

"Newspapering wasn't in their blood," Bill Lynch said.

The brothers were comfortable in handing editorial control to Bolling, a Glen Ellen resident for 36 years and former editor and publisher of the Santa Rosa News Herald.

But they needed more capital in the new partnership, and were reluctant to put the Index-Tribune up for sale, Bill Lynch said. Inquiries from prospective buyers came as recently as a month ago, he said.

Anderson initially took an interest in Sonoma magazine, a wine country lifestyle publication produced by the paper. Agreement was ultimately reached that he would have to invest in both the paper and magazine, Bill Lynch said.

You can reach Staff Writer Guy Kovner at 521-5457 or guy.kovner@pressdemocrat.com.