EO Media Group won the contested auction for Western Communication’s flagship Bend Bulletin and the weekly Redmond Spokesman.
The sale of the 17,000-circulation daily Bulletin and the 2,000-circulation weekly Spokesman was approved July 30 by Judge Trish Brown in the U.S. Bankruptcy Court for the District of Oregon. The sale is expected to close at the end of August.
EO Media outbid Adams Publishing Group in the auction, held in a Portland, Oregon, law office. Rhode Island Suburban Newspapers, which had made the first bid for the papers, did not participate in the auction, according to an account in the Bulletin by Business Editor Kathleen McLaughlin.
Western Communications filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection in January, and has been selling off its newspapers since the beginning of the summer.
“This offers the papers a chance for a fresh start,” EO Media COO Heidi Wright told The Bulletin.
EO Media will be the majority owner of a new holding company, Central Oregon Media Group, for the papers, Wright told The Bulletin. A group of Bend investors who contributed capital will have a minority stake, but their agreement with EO Media prevents them from exercising editorial control, according to Wright.
Among the investors is The Bend Foundation, a charity founded to benefit injured loggers and paper mill workers.
“We believe having a strong local newspaper is a critical part of a democracy,” said Mike Hollern, a trustee of the foundation.
"It's reassuring for the future of community newspapers when a small independent company like EO Media Group can prevail, even when going up against the big companies that are buying up newspapers nonstop around the country," added Wright.
Salem, Oregon-based EO Media is a family-owned publishing company founded in 1908 and on its fourth generation of owners. Its Oregon properties include the flagship East Oregonian in Pendleton, the Hermiston Herald, Wallowa County Chieftain and Blue Mountain Eagle.
Western Communications Chairwoman Betsy McCool said in The Bulletin that the company fell into financial trouble because it invested in local news.
“We protected that newsroom for years. It was important to us,” she said. “It’s sad to see what happened to the newspaper industry and how it affected everybody in this country.”
McCool told the paper she was rooting for EO Media Group to come out ahead at the auction, noting that she has known the family owners since she was a child. “They seem like compassionate people that care about Oregon,” she told The Bulletin.
The Bulletin report on the sale noted that “one lingering question is what EO Media Group will do with Western Communications’ press at the Bend headquarters.”
EO Media is not buying the building housing the press. “Terms of a lease for space inside the building require the press to be relocated within 90 days of the building’s sale,” Wright told the newspaper.
Dirks, Van Essen, Murray & April, a media merger and acquisition firm based in Santa Fe, New Mexico represented Western Communications in the transaction.