American Community Newspapers, a fast-growing community newspaper chain based in suburban Minneapolis, has purchased Suburban Washington Newspapers Inc., publisher of the weekly Sun Gazette newspapers as well as two monthly lifestyle publications.
The acquisition includes the two Sun Gazette weeklies, which serve Arlington and the Fairfax County communities of McLean, Great Falls, Vienna and Oakton, as well as the monthly publications Middleburg Life and Northern Virginia Parent Life. The publications are distributed free and have a combined circulation of about 100,000.
American Community chief executive Gene M. Carr said the company wants to expand more into the Washington area, either by buying other community newspapers or starting new ones.
"The company is on an aggressive plan. We've been making one acquisition on a monthly basis now," Carr said. "Our plan [for Washington] would be the acquisition of existing community newspapers and launches of new weekly newspapers in markets that are not served."
Given its exploding population of affluent and highly educated residents, Northern Virginia has been targeted by both large and small publications. Last spring, billionaire publisher Philip F. Anschutz launched the Washington Examiner, a tabloid that he hoped would compete with The Washington Post in the Northern Virginia and Maryland suburbs and some District neighborhoods.
American Community Newspapers has built its business in similarly affluent suburban communities around the country. With its acquisition of the Northern Virginia publications, the company owns three daily newspapers, 70 weekly newspapers, and five niche publications in the metropolitan areas of Minneapolis, Kansas City and Dallas. The publications reach 1 million readers a week, according to Carr.
The privately held company did not disclose the purchase price of the Northern Virginia publications.
As publishers and editors of big metropolitan dailies try to fight declining circulation, smaller community newspapers are trying to capitalize on grass-roots community reporting.
"The amount of space devoted to state, federal, national and international news coupled with professional sports is basically the news hole of a metro daily," Carr said. "I think community newspapers as a whole do a better job of covering schools week in and week out than the metro daily newspaper."
Northern Virginia has a particularly robust local newspaper market, with communities such as Arlington and McLean hosting multiple publications in print and electronic formats that focus on in-depth coverage of schools, local government and community affairs.
"It's an attractive market, which is why there are so many people fighting for market share over there," newspaper industry analyst John Morton said. "The Washington Post is never going to get down to the chicken-dinner coverage of these communities, and some of these community newspapers come close to that."
Carr said the staff of the Northern Virginia publications will remain, including Suburban Washington Newspapers publisher Donna M. Talla. The weekly newspapers are descendants of the once-daily Northern Virginia Sun, which began publication in 1935.