Publisher Puts OC Weekly, Other Papers Up for Sale : Media: The owner of the company, which includes Village Voice, says his children don’t want to continue in the business.


The owner of OC Weekly, Orange County’s prickly alternative paper, said Wednesday that the 4-year-old publication is for sale.

New York-based Stern Publishing, which also owns LA Weekly, the Village Voice and four other alternative publications in major U.S. cities, is putting all of its weekly newspapers on the block because none of the owner’s children wants to go into the media business.

Stern has more than 500 employees, including 33 in Orange County, and annual revenue of more than $80 million, company officials said. Experts said the papers could fetch as much as $200 million.


The Costa Mesa-based OC Weekly was founded in September 1995 and has grown from 64 pages to more than 100 most weeks, said Michael Sigman, publisher of OC Weekly and LA Weekly. The free publication, distributed at more than 1,000 locations across the county, claims an unaudited circulation of 70,000.

While the paper has won more than a dozen local Press Club awards, OC Weekly is best known for its irreverence and occasional antics.

In 1996, OC Weekly writer Matt Coker assumed the alias of Matt Stanfil, a fire-breathing right-wing Republican. Stanfil exchanged letters with then-U.S. Rep. Robert Dornan and other prominent county Republicans discussing his “conversion” to the party.

Some of the politicians responded. “Matt, I wish you continued success and happiness in all that you endeavor to do, and may God bless you,” Dornan wrote in a letter that was published by the paper.

“I think sometimes they’re pretty unfair, but in their own way they perform a valuable service by putting the powers-that-be on their heels,” said Rick Reiff, editor of the Orange County Business Journal, who was once named one of the “Scariest People in Orange County” for his position on the El Toro airport.

“While I think there’s some bad journalism in it, there’s also some good journalism in it.”


Sigman said he doesn’t expect any major changes in the paper’s operation.

Stern Publishing President David Schneiderman said the decision to sell the publications was entirely personal.

Owner Leonard Stern “talked to his children, and none of them were interested in going into the media business in the future,” he said. “That is what set the whole process going.”

The sale should signal how much the business of free weeklies has changed, said Abe Peck, a professor at Northwestern University’s Medill School of Journalism and an expert on the alternative press.

“They started out as free-style newspapers that were alternatives to the traditional downtown newspapers, and in some ways they still are,” he said. “But they also find themselves in a position where life has been good on the bottom line.”

Profitability, he added, has made alternatives attractive to larger companies.

“This is the way of the world in every medium right now,” he said. “There are tons of papers, but there is more and more concentration of ownership. We have an expectation of these papers being independent and small, but prosperity tends to lead to investment and expansion. It’s ironic.”

Stern Publishing, which includes papers in Seattle, Minneapolis-St. Paul, Cleveland and Long Island, claims a total circulation of more than 890,000.


One potential suitor is New Times Inc., which operates 10 alternative newspapers across the country, including New Times Los Angeles.

“It would be a ripe plum for someone to pick,” said Rick Barrs, editor of New Times Los Angeles. “It is an interesting situation, but it’s premature to be saying whether New Times will go after it or not. It is an appealing plum.”

Stern has engaged the investment banking firm of Veronis Suhler & Associates as its financial advisor.

Richard Karpel, executive director of the Assn. of Alternative Newsweeklies, which has 119 members with 7.4 million readers and revenue of $437 million, said that Stern’s enterprise would not come cheap.

Considering the marketability of LA Weekly and the Village Voice, he said, it could sell for as much as $200 million.