VPM Media buys Richmond alt-weekly

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VPM Media announced Thursday that it purchased Style Weekly, an alternative weekly newspaper in Richmond, Va. 

Style Weekly was owned by Alden Global Capital, a hedge fund known for buying and gutting local newspapers. The hedge fund shut down the print and online publication in September.

Swain

With the purchase, VPM Media will receive Style Weekly’s website and social media accounts, as well as its archive of articles and images. VPM is also in touch with former staffers of the paper about “potentially coming on board and helping us,” said VPM CEO ​​Jayme Swain.  

VPM plans to restart the publication online and “evaluate” print production, Swain said. “We just need to get to know it a little bit better,” she said. “We know digital and social media well, but not print as well. But that’s part of the long-term strategy — really understanding what was the circulation, how people interacted with it.”

The broadcaster also gets a “built-in audience” of 35- to 54-year-olds and a “more diverse demographic,” Swain said. “So it really fits alongside our audience engagement strategy as well.”

VPM expects to begin publishing original content on the Style Weekly website by the end of the year, but Swain said the organization will take its time evaluating how to incorporate the publication into the organization.  

“Ultimately, we’d like to step back and do some true audience research, do some listening, try to get a sense of what the needs are in the community so that we can craft a long-term strategy,” Swain said. “This is an opportunity that pops up, that we wanted to seize on it, but we also really want to take the time to plot our long-term strategy.”

The deal closed last week. Swain declined to disclose the purchase price. Full funding for the acquisition came from the Virginia Foundation for Public Media, which VPM created using a portion of the $182 million it won in a 2017 spectrum auction

“In some ways, some people might think this might be an odd acquisition,” Swain said. “But in fact, I think … there’s so much strategic alignment, and we’re grateful that we have a foundation to enable us to be able to try things like this. We can be bold.”

When Alden shut down the newspaper, “we at VPM felt a great sadness like many of the community to lose this interesting voice, particularly around arts and culture,” Swain said.

The publication was a go-to place for information about arts and culture events, Swain said, and losing its calendar would have left a “significant missing piece for our community.”

A VPM staffer suggested looking into an acquisition soon after Alden announced that it would shut down Style Weekly. The broadcaster moved quickly to assemble a group from across the organization to evaluate the opportunity.

“You have to move quickly, because the challenge would have been if we had waited a year, which was an option, then the brand would have gone dormant,” Swain said. “So it would’ve been much harder, I think, to re-energize the brand.”

For now, VPM will keep its brand and Style Weekly’s separate. She sees Style Weekly as a brand that can be more fun and quirky. 

VPM News provides “context-rich, serious journalism,” Swain said. “I think the thing that we can do with Style that maybe in public media we fear a little bit is having a little bit more fun, being more accessible, being maybe quirky, right? It’s a little bit of a different brand in a different tone, and I’m really excited with the team to explore that. And our journalists are excited to write for both.”

The broadcaster is trying to “think multiplatform,” Swain said. “We’re very multiplatform, I think, in news, but in arts and culture, not as much.” 

“It’s a difficult media landscape,” she added. “And we need to stand out and we need to be relevant to our communities, and this is part of it.”

VPM is the latest public media organization to acquire a print publication in recent months, joining WTVP in Peoria, Ill., and Chicago Public Media.

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