Northern News Services bought by B.C.-based Black Press Media

·4 min read
NNSL Media, a publisher of seven weekly community newspapers in N.W.T. and Nunavut, and two news sites, has been bought by Black Press Media. The deal is set to close on March 31. (Sidney Cohen/CBC - image credit)
NNSL Media, a publisher of seven weekly community newspapers in N.W.T. and Nunavut, and two news sites, has been bought by Black Press Media. The deal is set to close on March 31. (Sidney Cohen/CBC - image credit)

Northern News Services Limited, often referred to as NNSL, has been bought by B.C.-based Black Press Media.

Black Press owns several community newspapers and news websites in B.C., Alberta and Yukon, according to a joint news release issued Friday.

NNSL publishes two newspapers weekly in Yellowknife, along with the Hay River Hub, Inuvik Drum, Kivalliq News, Nunavut News and News/North. News/North has been in publication for 75 years.

The deal, which is set to close on March 31, means Black Press will own all of NNSL's community newspapers and two news sites, NNSL.com and Nunavutnews.com, based in Northwest Territories and Nunavut.

Black Press also announced it's buying Canarctic Graphics, a full-service commercial printer based in Yellowknife.

Rick O'Connor, president and CEO of Black Press Media, says the company's experience with northern newspapers has been "favourable" since it bought Yukon News in 2013.

"We are very pleased to purchase these companies from the estate of company founder, Jack (Sig) Sigvaldason," O'Connor said in a statement.

"We look forward to supporting these newspapers, their associated digital operations and printing plant, as we move forward out of the pandemic."

O'Connor told CBC he thinks there is strong support in the territories for private media from both the territorial governments and residents.

"When you combine the relative remoteness with the need for communication and the support that you get from all levels of government for this type of product, we just feel it's a really good opportunity for us as a company," he said.

The owners of NNSL reached out to Black Press in February 2020 to gauge the company's interest, according to O'Connor.

"Of course, everything kind of went on hold for several months after that. And we picked up discussions in the fall again, and came to an agreement," he said.

O'Connor told CBC the plan is to keep all of NNSL's newspapers and sites running. He says the company plans to better understand its operations over the span of the year before it considers "strategic changes."

'Good future' for community media

"We bring a level of support on the digital side that I think will help them," O'Connor said. "Previous to this, they didn't have any digital staff in Yellowknife, they were contracting that work out … We can also help them with some of our software approaches and accounting support, that sort of thing."

"My philosophy is that the editorial direction is set in the territory, by the editorial staff. We give them that license ... and we work with them to support them in a number of areas that make the operation more efficient."

He says there isn't a plan to change the branding of its newly acquired papers, though there may be some changes to the websites.

"In general, it's business as usual," he said.

He says Black Press Media audiences are "higher than they've ever been.

"All [of us] in the media have a monetization problem, and how to figure out how to deal with Google and Facebook. So I do think that once we sorted out some of those issues, I do think there is a good future for community media," he said.

"I've always felt that if you're isolated or on an island, media becomes even more important."

NNSL president 'confident'

Black Press Media operates 80 community newspapers and news websites in Western Canada, and nine daily newspapers and news websites in Washington state, Alaska and Hawaii. Black Press also owns Central Web, which prints many newspapers and magazines in Edmonton and Calgary, including the tourism publications produced by NNSL.

"These papers and digital platforms provide an extremely valuable service across the North, connecting audiences and advertisers alike," said O'Connor.

"We are impressed with the NNSL Media operation and staff and look forward to partnering with them in the years ahead."

Karen Sigvaldason, president of NNSL Media and Canarctic, said she's assured the company's traditions will continue with Black Press.

"My father, Sig, believed passionately in the strong role of NNSL and Canarctic in serving the people of the North," Sigvaldason said in the joint news release.

"I am confident that Black Press Media will continue that tradition."

David Black, Black Press chairman and majority owner, says its newest acquisitions are a good "fit" with their print and digital strategy.

"We are very pleased to acquire these community newspapers and printing operation."