by Gabe Meline
As reported this morning, the Press Democrat has been sold by Florida-based interim owners Halifax Media Acquisitions to a group of local investors, including lobbyist and developer Darius Anderson and former North Coast Congressman Doug Bosco.
The company, Sonoma Media Investments LLC, also bought the Sonoma Index-Tribune earlier this year.
According to the report:
Other key players in the purchase group include Steven Falk, former president and publisher of the San Francisco Chronicle and chief executive of the San Francisco Chamber of Commerce and Bill Hooper, president of Anderson's development firm, Kenwood Investments, and a former executive with Clear Channel Outdoor, the billboard advertising company.
Darius Anderson has a long history as a high-powered lobbyist for companies like PG&E, Station Casinos, Pfizer, Microsoft and Catellus, and has worked for Clint Eastwood and been a fundraiser for Gray Davis. In 2010, Anderson was fined half a million dollars in a corruption probe. He currently wants to build a $30 million boutique hotel off the Sonoma plaza.
Doug Bosco is another beast entirely, and could wield the type of political influence over the Press Democrat that many of its newsroom writers may not like. With ties to the Savings & Loan scandal and, as a congressman, implicated in the check-bouncing scandal, Bosco is a behind-the-scenes powerbroker with deep interests in gravel mining, timber and development. His close friend, Eric Koenigshofer, is the attorney for the redwood-clearcutting Preservation Ranch project in northwestern Sonoma County, and appears to have Fifth District Supervisor Efren Carrillo in his back pocket. Anderson, in fact, interned for Bosco in the mid-'80s, and another one of the "Bosco Boys" (yes, they have a cutesy name) is Robert Bone, responsible for the infamous race-mongering 2010 campaign mailer against Pam Torliatt.
Think we're going to get fair and balanced coverage out of this ownership?
Halifax hasn't been great to the Press Democrat, and all they've really done for the paper is put it up for sale to help recoup their purchase from the New York Times of 15 other news properties, all located in the southeast United States. Earlier last month, they imposed a gag order on the editorial board in endorsing candidates for elected office, but otherwise, they've kept the newsroom intact.
Let me be clear: I think local ownership of the daily paper of record is a good thing. But in his role as a self-styled political kingmaker, it's hard to imagine Bosco keeping his business interests away from the newsroom he now owns. You don't buy a newspaper in 2012 to get rich. You buy a newspaper in 2012 to gain influence. Remember that when you read the Press Democrat from now on.
UPDATE: An editorial source at the Press Democrat requesting anonymity tells us that we're rushing to judgement here, and that maintaining business and journalistic independence for the paper is the very, very clear intention from everyone involved. The source also tells us that this point will be much clearer in the coming weeks.
We certainly hope so.