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In a move that many in the Colorado news business had been expecting, Arkansas Valley Publishing owners Merle and Mary Baranczyk have sold their publishing business to O’Rourke Media Group based in Phoenix, Arizona. Run by Jim O’Rourke, the media group owns 31 news organizations spread across eight states. The purchase takes effect next Monday, April 3 and the staff was told last night.

The Arkansas Valley Publishing company has operated five newspapers in our region: The Mountain Mail and Mountain Guide in Salida, the Chaffee County Times in Buena Vista, the Fairplay Flume, and in Leadville the Herald Democrat. According to O’Rourke, there will be no immediate changes and all employees will continue to be employed. This past year, The Mountain Mail’s five-day-a-week print publication moved to two days per week.

This latest development could be seen by some as part of a trend that is continuing to spread across the nation, where media groups, hedge funds, and private equity funds are buying up local newspapers and consolidating the delivery of news, which in many cases is beginning to be referred to by the rather demeaning web marketing term “content”.

In this case, that word has been used in the announcement in this morning’s Mountain Mail describing the O’Rourke Media Group: “News teams excel at producing unique content and useful information that fuels an engaged growing audience across print and digital platforms and they have established themselves as a top-performing sales company.”

Does this mean they don’t consider themselves as a “top” news organization? Time will surely tell.

The trend is referred to as “media consolidation”; the concentration of ownership into the hands of fewer and fewer corporations. For-profit media groups are often focused on maximizing revenue. In the case of this local purchase, O’Rourke says that the purchase matches the mission of his family-run company.

While news organizations have traditionally been run by generations of journalists who we jokingly say “have ink in their veins,” the O’Rourke Media Group was organized in 2018. But O’Rourke says he “grew up in the business”.

O’Rourke’s group now includes newspapers in Wisconsin, Minnesota, Vermont, Delaware, Virginia, New Mexico, Arizona and now Colorado.

Look for the Ark Valley Voice news story next week, covering the impacts of media consolidation on fact-based local news.