A publicly traded company has announced plans to acquire The Georgia Straight, a Vancouver-based alternative weekly with a history of challenging authority and tweaking the establishment.
Media Central Corporation on Monday said it had entered into a binding letter of intent to acquire Vancouver Free Press, the sole owner and operator of The Georgia Straight and its associated publications, for $1.25-million in cash and shares.
The deal, which is scheduled to close Feb. 28, follows Media Central’s December purchase of Toronto’s Now Magazine. It is part of what Media Central says will be a continuing consolidation strategy for independent weeklies.
Existing staff are expected to keep their jobs under new ownership and Media Central has proposed a business plan that features new content and revenue potential, including in the cannabis sector, said Dan McLeod, founder of The Georgia Straight.
There have been other prospective buyers over the years, but the current offer represented the best match for The Straight’s history and values, he added.
“The difference is the people involved and their ambitions for growing the paper in the midst of difficult times; they are very enthusiastic and very hyped about what they can do,” Mr. McLeod said.
Media Central, which is based in Ontario, sees a “huge opportunity to consolidate and protect the soul of North American weeklies and unify their passionate base of alternative followers with a smart and scalable business model,” Media Central chief executive Brian Kalish said in a statement.
The Georgia Straight was founded in 1967 and has remained a family-owned, independent newspaper since then.
The newspaper may have drawn higher offers in previous years when its advertising revenues were stronger, but the current market and advertising outlook dampened its prospects, Mr. McLeod said.
“Years ago, there were times when there would have been a considerably greater valuation, but now ... this is a generous offer in today’s environment," he said.
Mr. McLeod said he had been talking to another prospective purchaser last year, but started negotiations with Media Central in October when the other deal fell through.
He said he planned to stay on in an advisory capacity but that specific details were still being negotiated.
Mr. McLeod said he was proud of the paper’s track record in environmental journalism, which was “virtually uncovered” when the paper started publishing.
The Straight covered the early days of the environmental organization Greenpeace, established in 1971, with some of the group’s founders virtually living in the newspaper’s office, he said.
An early reference to The Georgia Straight in The Globe and Mail’s archives comes in an October, 1967, story headlined, “Vancouver restores hippie paper’s license” and quoted then-mayor Tom Campbell saying the paper’s latest issue was “as clean as can be.”
The city had the previous month suspended the paper’s business licence after Mr. Campbell complained the publication was “obscene," “a filthy rag" and was being sold to school children, the story said.
The paper was charged with several offences over the years, including obscenity and “inciting to commit an indictable offence” when it printed instructions on how to grow marijuana.
Mr. McLeod said he hoped Media Central would allow both Now and The Georgia Straight to bolster their content and generate additional revenue while focusing on local audiences with niche content readers may not find elsewhere.
Charles Campbell, a former editor of The Georgia Straight between 1986 and 1997, said he was concerned about the potential loss of jobs under new management and the loss of local control, saying the paper’s strength was its local knowledge and connections.
“When The Straight was at its best, it felt like the community coming together,” he said.
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