Two Chatham County newspapers soon will have new owners.
A front-page story in The Chatham News announced the sale of the newspaper and its sister publication, The Chatham Record, Thursday. Both are published weekly.
The Chatham Media Group LLC reached a deal Monday to purchase the newspapers from The Chatham News Publishing Company, Inc., the story said.
The new ownership group includes Bill Horner III, the former publisher of the Sanford Herald; Kirk Bradley, president of Lee-Moore Capital in Sanford; and Chris Ehrenfeld, owner of Bold Construction and president of the Central Carolina Community College Foundation, the school’s fundraising arm.
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Bradley, who also is an investor in Chatham Park, said they will pay cash for the newspapers but would not disclose the purchase price. They expect to close the deal Nov. 8.
The Chatham News, which has been published in Siler City since 1924, and The Chatham Record, which dates to 1878 in Pittsboro, have been family-owned for almost 80 years. Mary Resch succeeded her husband, Alan, as editor and publisher after he died in 2016. The papers had been in their family since 1939 when his father, E.A. Resch, bought them. Alan Resch joined the business in 1962, according to the story.
Bradley said he saw value in having local ownership of the papers. He also said having Horner as an experienced publisher is what made the deal make sense.
“We learned that Mrs. Resch was interested in selling,” Bradley said. “Chris Ehrenfeld made me aware of it and I’ve been friends with Bill Horner for a long time. Chris and I wanted to make sure Chatham had local ownership in the media. It’s not totally altruistic. We are investors and we want to try to make a return.”
Against the odds
UNC journalism professor Penny Abernathy has studied the decline of local newspapers. A recent study she published in conjunction with the Knight Foundation found that about 1,800 local newspapers have gone out of business or merged since 2004.
“It’s not unusual to see family-owned newspapers being sold,” Abernathy said. “The good news is that these papers are bucking the trend and remaining locally owned. One of the problems with the chains is that the larger and larger you get, the further removed you get from the community.”
Abernathy said there are three things needed for a local paper to be successful, which include local ownership that knows the needs of local businesses and readers, an investment in human capital and a long-range plan.
Horner said Chatham’s population growth projections will give the newspapers a fighting chance to survive and thrive.
“I think the opportunity in a market like Chatham County that has so much growth potential was just really too much to pass up,” he said. “Obviously, the focus is going to be on the people who live and work in Chatham County.”
Pittsboro is expected to grow from about 5,000 residents to about 60,000 over the next 30 years as Chatham Park develops. That growth alone will nearly double the county’s population, which now is around 71,000.