Three Seminole County newspapers to be bought by local development council
The Seminole Economic Development Council has reached an agreement in principle to purchase the assets of three Seminole County newspapers following the Dec. 30 death of Stu Phillips, the Seminole Producer's third-generation publisher.
“SEDC is in the job creation and job retention business," said attorney Jack Mattingly Sr., chairman of the Seminole Economic Development Authority. "When it became clear to us that not only were we going to lose jobs but a big piece of our history, we decided to do what we could to save the newspaper."
Assets of the Seminole, Wewoka and Konawa newspapers are included in the pending sales agreement, which the Seminole Economic Development Council worked out with assistance from the Seminole Community Foundation, officials said.
“It is clear that the newspaper business is tough right now, but we just couldn't allow it to shut its doors without a fight," said Shari Carter, president of the Seminole Community Foundation. "Those employees mean a lot to our city. And collectively the Seminole, Wewoka and Konawa newspapers are an important anchor in our county.”
The Seminole Economic Development Council is a public trust created to promote economic development in the area. The mayor and two city council members serve on the nine-member board, said Steve Saxon, Seminole city manager and the council's executive director.
“The structure of the acquisition is pretty simple," Saxon said. "We are buying the assets of the company and our intent is to lease or sell those assets to someone with business acumen and experience with publishing. That person or company has not been identified. SEDC has zero intention of running the newspaper."
Saxon said the sudden death of Phillips at age 55 left little time for anyone else to form a plan and get financing.
"The Producer was faced with a firm date to close the doors," he said. "SEDC is moving quickly to make sure that does not happen. We will be working with current staff to operate the newspaper until a new operator can be found.”
The council is purchasing the names of the three newspapers and other assets of the company, but the "actual company (minus the building, printing press, paper and ink) along with any potential former liability claims will remain with the Phillips family," Saxon said.
"The terms of the purchase will be public as soon as we get our wits about us," Saxon said. "Right now there is a tremendous amount of work to do to keep the operations going smoothly."
Mattingly said Phillips' editorial voice will be missed.
"He was always there. He had a knack for feeling what was the right side and the wrong side and he'd land on the right side almost every time," Mattingly said.