Rufus Woods looked into the near future and saw daunting challenges for The Wenatchee World. Woods, publisher of the newspaper that has been in his family for 111 years, knew that it would be increasingly difficult to keep an independent, small-market newspaper — even one that’s profitable and journalistically well-regarded — on sound financial footing.
It’s the story of the newspaper industry these days, at every level from the largest dailies to the small-town weeklies (that would include the Methow Valley News): In an age of constant bombardment by digital media, print is struggling to find a sustainable niche.
“Looking at the big picture, it’s just clear to me from a rational point of view … that it’s not viable to remain for the long term as a single paper of this size in this market,” Woods said in a conversation last week. “It was clear that as part of a group [of newspapers], we would have a better chance of thriving … Our choices were to hang on and hope, or try to attract a good ‘white knight.’”
By that Woods meant finding a buyer for The World who would maintain the community-based values of the Woods family.
In one respect, it’s a seller’s market, with caveats. There are several large newspaper conglomerates — or investment firms looking for assets to strip — on the prowl, snapping up all the publications they can, like the Borg, assimilate. Resistance is often futile for the beleaguered owners of smaller, or even mid-sized and big-city operations.
Woods had no interest in the predatory acquirers. Instead, he hoped to find a buyer that he could confidently trust with the Woods family’s heritage and the futures of his employees. He found what he calls the perfect match in Arizona-based Wick Communications, a third-generation family-owned and -operated media corporation that has purchased The World.
The sale announcement was made last week by Woods and Wick Chief Executive Officer Francis Wick. Woods says it was the best outcome he could hope for.
“We ended up with the perfect match,” Woods said of Wick Communications. “We talked to a lot of people [other prospective buyers], but our first impression of Wick was excellent. It was a good vibe. Their people are thoughtful and prepared. I’m really pleased.”
The sale announcement noted that all World employees will be offered jobs with Wicks. That may change over time, but it’s refreshingly different scenario from the immediate slash-and-burn strategies of some bigger media companies when they acquire new properties.
“We got an owner who is really first-class,” Woods said. “They are a family with a similar history.”
Woods will continue at the paper as a columnist. Jeff Ackerman, who has been a publisher at various newspapers, succeeds Woods as publisher.
As a customer of the World — they print our newspaper and special publications, and do a great job of it — I was naturally curious (I wouldn’t go so far as to say concerned) about what would happen under new ownership. I didn’t have to wait long for an answer. Francis Wick called me this week to introduce himself and affirm his company’s commitment to meaningful community journalism.
Wick Communications has newspapers, websites, magazines, specialty publications and a strong digital presence in Arizona, Alaska, California, Colorado, Idaho, Louisiana, Montana, North Dakota, Oregon, South Dakota — and now Washington.
The Woods and Wicks families do indeed have similar histories going back through several generations. Milton I. Wick founded Wick Communications in 1926. He and his brother, James L. Wick, were inducted into the Arizona Newspaper Hall of Fame for their decades of commitment to journalism. Milton’s sons, Walt and Robert, continued the family tradition of serving communities through strong journalism, and were named to the Arizona Newspaper Hall of Fame in 2004.
The Wenatchee Daily World was founded in 1905 and purchased two years later by Rufus Woods and his brother Ralph. Later, their cousin Warren Woods became the paper’s business manager. Rufus Woods was publisher until his death in 1950. Following his death, his son Wilfred published the paper and managed the company with Robert Woods, the son of Warren. In 1997, Wilfred retired and passed the reins to his son, Rufus G. Woods. Wilfred passed away in 2017.
“It has been our privilege to be the stewards of this wonderful community asset for three generations,” Woods said last week. “We are grateful to be able to hand the reins to another family-oriented company that shares our community-building values.”
Which is to say, Woods now feels a lot better about the future.