Tim Dewar, Ojai Valley News publisher
Towards the end of next month, the Ojai Valley News will turn 125 years old.
For the last few months, the staff and I have put our hearts and souls into making that statement a reality.
Was there reason to think it might not happen? Unfortunately, yes.
We recently learned the company’s owner, Bill Buchanan, filed for personal bankruptcy. Bill, the owner of another newspaper in Tennessee, purchased the Ojai Valley News in 2000. The ensuing years were not good for newspapers in general and the Ojai Valley News and the Ojai Valley Visitors Guide survived only because of strong local support from our readers and advertisers.
Although recent weeks have been a roller coaster for the staff, we have operated under the assumption that we would make it through a trying court process and come out stronger on the other side. It appears we are very close to making that happen.
I saw this as an opportunity to return ownership of the newspaper to the community and approached several locals to gauge their interest in purchasing the company. Thanks to three very strong years, we have been profitable enough to make that a viable proposition and while several dropped out, one group has hung in there through this sometimes-arduous process.
Fortunately, after a visit to Ojai to meet with me, the major creditor, Excelsior Capital Partners (ECP), was convinced that shutting the doors on a 124-year-old newspaper, now one of the oldest in the state, is not in the community’s best interest. They have since agreed to a plan that would allow the local buyers group to assume ownership. While this plan still faces a few hurdles, for the first time since the process started, all sides are working towards that common goal.
We hope the court will resolve the last few legal issues and will seal the deal sometime this month so we can get on with the business of serving the community for another 125 years. Although I probably won’t be around for all of those years, the local buyers group has asked me to stay on as publisher and continue to operate the company as I have since taking over its operation in 2012. I am honored they have such faith in the staff and me.
Is it big news to our readers or advertisers that the company will have new owners? Hardly. The company has been sold many times in the past and will likely be sold again (selling shares to locals to make it truly a community newspaper is a strong possibility in the near future). While there will likely be a few changes the new situation will provide, I doubt that most in the community will notice or care as long as we continue to publish twice a week and keep stocking our racks with our quarterly magazine.
We fully intend to do just that and more. We are currently in the midst of our annual Best of the Ojai Valley Contest (don’t forget to go to our website and vote). We are days away from putting together the fall issue of the Ojai Valley Visitors Guide and our fall Home & Auto special section will be out just in time to kick off our 125th year.
Thanks to the continued support of this great community, we are strong, we are forging ahead and we have shown we can stand on our own financially.
If the stars align and our hard work over the past few months bears the fruit we expect, a huge thank you should go to J. Jones and Nate Cann of ECP for their willingness to think outside of their “financial-world box” that gave us a fighting chance. That chance would not be possible without locals willing to stand up for community journalism who believe that Ojai is better because of what this newspaper provides. Without our wonderful subscribers (if you aren’t yet, this would be a fabulous time to become one) and advertisers, our financials would not be strong enough to convince anyone to make an investment in us. And finally, to Bill and Ava Buchanan, we give thanks for being our stewards for the past 15 years and for making it possible for us to move into year 125 in a position to continuing providing jobs to a dedicated staff, community journalism to our readers and value to our advertisers.