Associates of The Lima News realized the guessing game was about to end when the email popped into their computers' inboxes at 9:21 a.m. Thursday. For almost 10 years, there had been speculation about a new owner. However, none of that speculation matched that of the last six months.The email from Jim Shine, the newspaper's publisher, was to the point.“Please join me in the main conference room at 10 a.m. for a brief announcement,” he wrote.The meeting started on time, and within a matter of minutes, we learned that Versa Capital Management had purchased The Lima News as well as three other Freedom Communications newspapers in Missouri. It was unusually quieter the rest of the day. That's nothing negative against the new owner; it was more about the former one — Freedom Communications — and the reality of dealing with change.Freedom was a one-of-a-kind newspaper, starting with its name. That moniker — Freedom — is what newspapers are all about: investigating, expressing opinions and providing information.And then there was its feisty founder, R.C. Hoiles, whose legacy stood out among American newspaper owners.Hoiles was one of the few, if not the only publisher, during World War II whose editorials were critical of Japanese internment camps run by the government.“How can we imprison Americans for not breaking any laws,” he would ask.Hoiles was a libertarian 10-times over. He was Ron Paul on steroids before there was a Ron Paul. He earned applause for espousing personal freedoms and railing against taxation. However, when he talked about limited government, including no public money for libraries, many viewed him to be somewhat odd.He capitalized on opportunity.Whether the purchase of the Santa Ana, Calif., newspaper was the work of a visionary or a Jed Clampet stroke of good luck, Hoiles' purchase came when it was just a small town in the middle of a desert. Along came the development of irrigation and out of the ground sprouted Southern California. The Orange County Register provided Hoiles with enough money to begin building a media empire that would later be run by family members.Freedom wisely purchased clusters of newspapers in various regions of the country such as Texas, North Carolina, the Florida Panhandle, the Midwest and Colorado. This diversity of locations allowed the company to better handle the swings in the economy. Typically, if one region was experiencing a downturn, another area would be bustling.However, that formula wasn't enough to overcome the challenges the newspaper industry has faced the past 11 years. There was the recession that followed the terrorist attacks on Sept. 11, 2001. Then came the acceleration of the digital era, with chunks of traditional revenue streams, such as automobile, real estate and help wanted ads, migrating to the Internet.Mixed in between those two events for Freedom was a family feud that ended with one side of the Hoiles family buying out the other. To do so, it incurred a debt level that was fine before the recession, but not so in hard times.In October 2003, Freedom's board nearly accepted a joint bid by USA Today publisher Gannett Co. Inc. and Denver-based MediaNews Group, owner of the Denver Post and the Los Angeles Daily News. Instead, it turned to investment bankers.In September 2009, Freedom filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy so it could restructure its debt. When it came out of bankruptcy on May 3, 2010, the Hoiles family no longer had any connection with the company.Only half of the 28 daily newspapers that were part of the chain in 2005 will remain when the sale of the Midwest and Texas newspapers close. The eight television stations already are gone.
It would not be surprising if by the end of July the remaining Freedom newspapers in North Carolina, Florida and California are sold.It would be stunning if any part of the company was still intact by Dec. 31.Now it's on to Versa.The Lima News will be the largest of 15 daily newspapers in Versa's Ohio Media Group, which includes three other newspapers on Interstate 75 — Sidney, Piqua and Troy. I am looking forward to the opportunities that presents for enhancing local business, political and sports coverage as well as providing new opportunities for advertisers.Personally, this will mark the sixth newspaper chain I've worked for during my 37 years in the business. Freedom Communications certainly had the most interesting character.ROSES AND THORNS: A few this week.Rose: To Marjorie Bryan, 83, and Marianna Sherman, 82, of Lima. The two Blue Star mothers plan to parachute from a plane as part of a fundraiser.Rose: To John Lammers, 18, of Ottawa-Glandorf School, who was the overall winner in the 10th annual Leaders of Tomorrow program.Rose: To Mark Miller, of Lima. A postal worker by day, he's been volunteering for 10 years at the Rally in the Square.Thorn: To the people who had a negative addiction and stole a table and chairs used for the Lima Catholic Schools Positive Addiction race.PARTING SHOT: “It's better to be alone than in bad company.”Jim Krumel is the editor of The Lima News. To suggest a rose or thorn, contact him at email@example.com or The Lima News, 3515 Elida Road, Lima, Ohio 45807.