Princeton is a crowded market when it comes to community newspapers, and now one man, Richard Donnelly, owns two of those papers, the Princeton Sun and the Princeton Packet.
The Packet is a weekly that can trace its roots to the 1780s. Its oldest surviving competitor, Town Topics, was founded in 1946. Then there are newcomers: The Princeton Echo, founded in 2010, is a monthly community paper and sister publication of U.S. 1 published by Community News Service. The weekly Princeton Sun was launched shortly thereafter by Elauwit Media.
The Packet has paid circulation; the others are delivered free.
Into this lively scene has stepped Donnelly, owner of Donnelly Distribution, the Pennsauken-based circular company that delivers flyers, ad packages, product samples, and door hangers to homes. The publisher of advertisements earlier this year bought the company that owns Packet Media and has added more newspapers to his growing empire by buying the Sun Newspapers from Haddonfield-based Elauwit Media.
The acquisition leaves Donnelly in control of not one but two community newspapers in the crowded Princeton market. Whether both will continue to operate, whether they will be merged, or whether one of them discontinued, remains to be seen.
There are nine Sun publications, all of them free community newspapers distributed by mail. The Sun has papers in Princeton, Haddonfield, Moorestown, and towns in South Jersey. Donnelly also purchased Greater Media, a company that publishes 10 community newspapers in Central Jersey, including Middlesex, Monmouth, and Ocean counties.
In July Donnelly bought Broad Street Media, publisher of Philadelphia Weekly and other newspapers in the Philadelphia area and South Jersey including the Midweek Wire in Bucks County, Pennsylvania, and The Wire south Jersey.
Donnelly now controls about 35 publications. He placed all of these publications except for Broad Street Media in a newly formed entity called Newspaper Media Group.
Managing the editorial wing of Donnelly’s new empire is Broad Street Media’s Don Russell, a veteran reporter who worked for the Philadelphia Daily News until 2005 and later wrote the Joe Sixpack beer column for the Daily News and Philadelphia Weekly.
Russell said Donnelly was committed to good journalism, and that short-term plans included hiring more staff to supplement the 275 employees, 100 of whom are editorial, who now work at the various publications. Russell said that he especially wanted to beef up the company’s de facto flagship paper, Philadelphia Weekly, an alternative newspaper.
“Papers have been basically carved up and lost a lot of employees over the years,” Russell said. “His aim is to get them back up into a more suitable state, increasing the news hole along with advertising.”
Because Donnelly Distribution already has the logistics in place for delivering circulars, Russell said the company may use that network to deliver papers more efficiently.
The future of the Princeton Sun and Packet was less clear. Russell said no decisions had been made about whether to keep the two weeklies operating in the same town. The company does plan to merge one of the Wire publications into the Sun because of geographic overlap.
Adding to the intrigue, Donnelly declared bankruptcy for the newly acquired Broad Street Media part of his company. Russell told reporters Donnelly did so in order to deal with $2 million in debt accumulated by the former owners, mostly printing costs owed to the Gannett company for use of the Wilmington News Journal printing plant. A small part of that bill was incurred by the Packet, which is printed at the Delaware press.
Russell said that in general, Donnelly was committed to community journalism. “Newspapers have cut back staff, and it takes a lot to cover communities. You need feet on the ground covering each of those communities . . . and they really have been rocked by these newspaper cutbacks across the board. We are trying to rebuild those feet on the ground in those communities, and we are always going to be focused on that kind of hyper-local coverage.”
Another major media buyout by a different company was followed up by mass layoffs. Publisher Gannett, which bought the Bergen Record, the Herald News, and other publications of the North Jersey Media Group, has announced it is laying off about 200 newsroom and sales staff.
Elauwit, 145 Witherspoon Street, Princeton 08542. 609-751-0245, www.elauwit.com.
The Princeton Packet/Broad Street Media, 300 Witherspoon Street, Box 350, Princeton 08542. 609-924-3244. James B. Kilgore, publisher. www.centraljersey.com.