Sun-Gazette adds owners, buys Fresno County paper

Paul Myers becomes co-owner of Sun-Gazette parent company; ownership purchases Mid Valley Publishing’s operations including its newspaper and printing house

EXETER – Mineral King Publishing, parent company for The Sun-Gazette newspaper, inked a deal in mid-March that grew their business by three times and simultaneously expanded their reach into Fresno County. The purchase was effective as of May 1, but the deal has been a year in the making.

Mid Valley Publishing, the umbrella company of what was formerly the Reedley Exponent, Sanger Herald and Dinuba Sentinel among others, consolidated their individual newspapers into one product in 2019: the Mid Valley Times. The company also ran a commercial printing press, serviced legal notices and ran advertising in their paper. However, following the economic torrents of the pandemic and the passing of their publisher Fred Hall in March 2022, the company’s ownership group was weighing whether to close the entire operation. Fortunately Ellis and Myers were seeking a new opportunity to expand their brand of local journalism established by The Sun-Gazette in Tulare County.

“We felt like we were doing well as a newspaper but also as a business here in Tulare County, and I think we didn’t know how good we were going to be unless we tested ourselves somewhere else,” Myers said.

Perhaps done out of order, Myers and Ellis took over the operations of Mid Valley Publishing entirely in late May 2022, under a management contract with their company Mineral King Publishing. The Mid Valley ownership group spent the next few months assessing the company’s assets, debt, income and cashflow.

“Honestly, this is not the way to buy a company. Typically you want to buy it and then come in and run it, but we were very sure that the company would have folded with people leaving or equipment failures if we didn’t step in,” Ellis said.

By September Myers and Ellis hadn’t even begun to touch the journalism product the company made. Instead, while they waited on what the cost of the company would be, they revamped the entire operation from the ground up.

New schedules for commercial print clients needed to be implemented to streamline press production and eliminate costly overtime. New computers needed to be purchased for every department. There was a dire need for new cloud based systems that interacted with new software and hardware. Sales commission rates and policies were changed to help the salesperson make more per ad, but not paid out until it was collected. Everything was changed in one way or another, down to the pay-date schedule that would dramatically hurt the company during the months they could least afford it.

“Plugging the leaks in the boat with efficiency were a major part of the process, but the root of the problem is that they were charging too little because nobody knew what anything cost the company,” Ellis said.

Adding ownership

Myers, who had been editor for The Sun-Gazette since February 2016, had agreed to become an owner of Mineral King Publishing in September 2022. Holding a masters in public administration the editorial direction of The Sun-Gazette has been a mix of community based news with a healthy dose of government focused coverage. He has been a pivotal part of the company since it nearly closed its own doors in October 2015, and then its recovery from 2016 forward.

“The end of 2015 were some dark, dark days. And the years immediately following were not much brighter,” Myers said. “I think we didn’t really begin to hit our stride business wise until 2019, and even then there were starts and fits.”

The pandemic for Mineral King Publishing was a difficult time, as it was for almost every business. But it also presented Myers and Ellis with an opportunity to find new ways to streamline their business further. Coming out of 2020 and 2021 the editorial department began to make its true strides seeking sustainability–if that exists for local journalism at all.

“It was about late 2021 when I took a really hard look at the way we were doing stories, and I found a new way to produce our news without it being too intensive for Reggie and I, who were constantly working on stories and the business,” Myers said.

Shifting to a daily online model and putting those–and other stories–into the print product, attracted new reporters to The Sun-Gazette. The time Ellis didn’t spend writing stories was freed up to seek new advertisers or innovative business opportunities. By March 2022 the opportunity to expand the company presented itself.

New opportunities

Myers and Ellis hadn’t gotten to a point where they could unveil the new look and direction of the Mid Valley Times until October 2022. Much like The Sun-Gazette, they did away with the sprawling coverage of useless crime reports. They moved toward more city council and school board coverage that will actually impact residents in the coverage areas. What largely remains is the good community news that comes from chamber events and nonprofits, along with high school sports.

The move away from a voyeuristic crime rag to more in depth journalism was not initially well received. Emails flooded in from readers who felt the need to tell Myers that they were unsubscribing because of the lack of crime-blotter content. Others were implored to tell office staff that they were unsubscribing because the font size changed from a glaring 12 point font to an industry standard 10 point font.

However, the tide turned after the beginning of the year. In particular among community stakeholders that run nonprofit organizations, administrators and readers invested in their community.

“I am a huge fan of the direction the Mid Valley Times is heading. I have noticed more focused coverage on the news that impacts our local communities and the reporting is much more detailed,” Reedley Chamber of Commerce CEO Erik Valencia said about the change. “We are fortunate to have a local paper we can trust and works hard to provide us with accurate information.”

Forward looking

After a fair bit of back and forth between Mineral King Publishing owners and Mid Valley Publishing’s six member ownership group, the two companies struck a deal to purchase Mid Valley’s operations. Inked on March 15, it was off to the races to complete a massive transition.

“When you think about everything a company does, and everything it has in terms of branding, vendors, employee documents, payroll services, etc. etc. it’s a heavy lift to make all those changes in six weeks,” Ellis said.

The newspapers have been run simultaneously by Myers and reporters in both their Exeter and Reedley office since July 2022. There should be little difference in terms of coverage for either product except for plans to add more support staff and reporters.

“Reggie and I have a heart for this industry. We want to see sound local journalism continue wherever it is, and this was a great opportunity to see if we can be a part of that,” Myers said.

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