Cape Gazette keeps it local with sale to co-publisher

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Good afternoon,

One of a few remaining unchained newspapers in Delaware has changed hands but will remain under local ownership.

Cape Gazette founders, Publisher Dennis Forney and Editor Trish Vernon today announced that the newspaper and website are now owned by Chris Rousch, who serves as co-publisher. Terms were not disclosed.

Forney heads to Eastern Shore.

Forney has been spending a lot of time in his hometown of Chestertown on Maryland’s Eastern Shore. Vernon remained firmly in charge of the newsroom and held the post of co-publisher until recently.

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Forney now pens an Eastern Shore version of his popular “Barefootin” column that explores the region’s history, issues, and curiosities.

The three-decade-old Cape Gazette is a relative newcomer among Delaware newspapers and comes with an interesting back story.

Vernon and Forney held the top two positions at The Whale, a twice-weekly owned by Independent Newspapers, publisher of the daily Delaware State News in Dover, and assorted weeklies in Maryland, Florida, and Arizona.

The Whale was a thriving operation that sent a couple of thousand papers a week to owners of second homes who lived in the Washington, D.C. area.

Then came the Daily Whale

Independent, seeing signs of a boom in coastal Sussex, made an ill-advised decision to convert the paper into a daily. The Daily Whale’s lifespan was brief as it suffered from an embarrassing lack of advertising and later folded.

Vernon and Forney left Independent and founded the Cape Gazette, which remained true the Whale’s original formula. They rode the wave of development in Coastal Sussex and later expanded the Whale to a twice-weekly.

The newspaper excels at bread and butter coverage of businesses and public meetings while posting obituaries, engagements, etc., free of charge. So far, the Cape Gazette has not placed local news behind a subscriber paywall.

While keeping a paid subscription model, the Cape Gazette also has free distribution publications that capture additional advertising.

With the rise of online publishing in the early 2000s, chains viewed weeklies as a refuge from a steep decline in print advertising, and many owners cashed out.

Hanging tough when buyers came calling

The locally owned Dover Post Co., a statewide network of weeklies, was sold to Gatehouse. Newark Post owner Chesapeake Publishing was purchased by an operator of radio stations bankrolled by Australia’s Macquarie financial conglomerate that owns toll roads and the Lincoln Financial insurance company in the U.S.

Vernon and Forney hung tough and did not sell.

The Cape Gazette was not immune to the near-collapse in print advertising that followed but fared better than most, thanks to local ties and reader loyalty that evaporated at other weeklies as new chain owners slashed costs and staffs.

Most of the state’s weeklies are now owned by News Journal and (Salisbury) Daily Times owner Gannett, which merged with Gatehouse a couple of years ago.

Signs of change preceded sale.

Prior to the ownership announcement, there had been signs of change at the Cape Gazette in the form of more forceful editorials that question uncontrolled growth in the county and praise for the development of wind power off the Delaware and Maryland coasts.

Print still faces challenges, but the Cape Gazette is not burdened by a printing plant and out-of-town and out-of-touch ownership that ships key functions elsewhere.

Vernon and Forney deserve credit for keeping the Cape Gazette under local ownership, and many of us will be rooting for the new owner to “keep it local.” – Doug Rainey, chief content officer.

(The author held business editor posts at Chesapeake Publishing and Independent Newspapers now Independent Newsmedia USA)

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