Sonoma Media Investments, owner of The Press Democrat, pays off debt
The media group that owns The Press Democrat announced Wednesday the company has repaid its investors and is now debt free, nearly seven years after a prominent group of Sonoma County residents purchased the newspaper with a mission to restore local ownership.
Sonoma Media Investments assembled about $15 million in debt and equity funding in November 2012 to acquire The Press Democrat, Petaluma Argus-Courier and North Bay Business Journal for an undisclosed price from Florida-based Halifax Media Group, according to Steve Falk, the company’s CEO.
Eliminating that debt will allow the company to focus its financial resources on local journalism and community involvement, Falk said.
“It’s an assurance that our focus on local journalism, local reporting, will continue,” Falk said. “We’re involved with dozens of community organizations, and that support will continue.”
Sonoma Media Investments, which has 279 employees, also publishes the Sonoma Index-Tribune, Sonoma magazine, La Prensa Sonoma and Spirited magazine. It generated about $40 million in annual revenues last year, Falk said.
The company has been selling off its real estate assets over the last three years to wipe out its debt, repay investors and invest in its business. In January, it reached a $5.5 million deal to sell a 6.6-acre parcel behind the Press Democrat printing plant in Rohnert Park. The buyer, Advanced Building Solutions of Petaluma, plans to build an apartment complex on the land. The transaction allowed Sonoma Media Investments to repay the remaining debts owed to the local investment group, company officials said.
In 2016, it sold an adjacent 12.7-acre property to PB&J Acquisitions of Richmond for $9.5 million. The property included the 73,000-square-foot building that houses the paper’s printing presses along Highway 101, just southeast of the Graton Resort & Casino. Sonoma Media Investments retained ownership of the printing presses and agreed to lease the property for a minimum of 11 years.
The Press Democrat, which dates back 162 years, has leased its headquarters and parking lots in downtown Santa Rosa since 2014 when Halifax Media — which has since been acquired by another company — sold the property to Cornerstone Properties.
Lead investor Darius Anderson, a Sonoma-based real estate developer, entrepreneur and lobbyist, said the company’s value comes from the quality of news and other products it provides to consumers and local advertisers.
Anderson said he and other investors have been motivated to make the newspaper group successful out of a sense of community pride. That was reinforced last year when The Press Democrat newsroom was awarded the Pulitzer Prize for its coverage of the 2017 October firestorm.
“What we’ve been able to do is recruit great people and win the Pulitzer Prize in a time of crisis, and that shows the commitment the employees have creating a quality product,” Anderson said. “Sometimes you do things for financial returns, sometimes for spiritual returns or for ideological returns. This fulfilled a number of those buckets.”
Newspaper companies across the country have been shedding real estate, particularly those with headquarters in high-value city centers purchased decades ago when revenues soared, said Rick Edmonds, media business analyst for the Poynter Institute, a nonprofit school of journalism in St. Petersburg, Florida.