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Originally published January 9, 2013 at 6:51 PM | Page modified January 10, 2013 at 1:00 PM

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Seattle Weekly sold to local arm of Canadian press chain

Sound Publishing, owned by Canadian press baron David Black, bought the venerable alternative weekly for an undisclosed sum.

Seattle Times business reporter

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The Seattle Weekly, the alternative newspaper that has covered the city’s politics, music and arts for nearly four decades, was acquired Wednesday by Sound Publishing, a company owned by Canadian press baron David Black.

Voice Media Group sold the Weekly for an undisclosed sum to Sound Publishing, which has 36 daily, weekly and monthly community newspapers and magazines in Western Washington. It also publishes the Little Nickel Classifieds, and prints them all at a plant in Everett.

The deal gives the suburban newspaper publisher a well-known media brand in Seattle, filling a hole in Sound Publishing’s King County footprint, which consists of 16 suburban weeklies and a monthly magazine.

Sound Publishing gains rights to the Weekly’s content, which includes guides to Seattle festivals like Bumbershoot and SIFF.It also hopes to sell ads to more businesses in leisure and entertainment — the Weekly’s bread and butter — and match them with readers of its suburban newspapers.

Mike Seely, the Weekly’s editor, said the deal means “we have local owners again,” referring to Sound Publishing. “If they let us be ourselves it could be a very good thing.”

The Weekly’s founder, David Brewster, said Black approached him about buying the Weekly 15 years ago.

Today Black, the chairman of Black Press Ltd. in British Columbia, has more than 170 newspapers in western Canada and Washington, in addition to the Honolulu Star-Advertiser and Akron Beacon Journal in Ohio.

Wednesday’s news, Brewster said, is a mixed blessing for the Weekly.

On the one hand, the alt-weekly ultimately has a Canadian owner, Black, with no track record of publishing an urban weekly in the United States.

But becoming part of Black’s empire might just inject more resources into the Weekly, he said, and end a war with Seattle’s other alternative weekly, The Stranger, for a shrinking pie in print advertising. The two weeklies might become more distinct, he said.

“The question is whether it’s simply to be an advertising vehicle with some content, or whether it’s a serious commitment to urban journalism and the arts,” Brewster said.

Voice Media also sold SF Weekly to the San Francisco Examiner, which is chiefly owned by Black.

The sale of the two weeklies helped finance a buyout agreement announced in September in which the newly formed Denver company Voice Media bought all of the alternative newspapers of Village Voice Media Holdings.

The Weekly, which began publishing in 1976, has had a string of out-of-state owners: Brewster and his partners sold it in 1997 to Stern Publishing. In 2000 Village Voice Media Holdings bought the Weekly, only to be acquired itself in 2006 by New Times Media in Phoenix, Ariz., which assumed its name.

Last September, Village Voice Media announced it was splitting off its newspapers from its lucrative escort website, Backpage.com, which drew national criticism for carrying escort ads featuring juveniles.

Scott Tobias, CEO of Voice Media Group, didn’t respond to a request for comment.

In a news release, Tobias said the sale of the Weekly lets his company “focus on growth opportunities for mobile and online platforms and to develop core digital offerings in its other key markets.”

Seattle Times publisher Frank Blethen called the sale “a positive development if for no other reason than that for some time The Village Voice turned a blind eye to its own profiteering from teens forced into prostitution. Based on our knowledge of Black (Press), we would never fathom their allowing such a thing.”

The Weekly currently is printed at Rotary Offset Press, a Kent commercial printing plant owned by The Seattle Times Co.

Kenny Stocker, publisher of the Weekly, said he expects printing to shift to Sound’s Everett plant “fairly quickly.”

Sanjay Bhatt: 206-464-3103 or sbhatt@seattletimes.com On Twitter @sbhatt

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