Free Times alt-weekly is sold

otaylor@thestate.comDecember 20, 2012 

— Free Times, the local alternative weekly celebrating its 25th year in print, has its second owner in a decade.

Portico Media SC of Charlottesville, Va., has sold the publication, its websites and auxiliary publications to Resorts Media LLC. The announcement was made in a press release Wednesday evening.

Charlie Nutt, who owns Resorts Media, said he was looking for an opportunity with “a good newspaper in a nice community.”

Free Times — and the city of Columbia — fit Nutt’s specifications.

“I was looking for a good newspaper with a good staff and an established role in the community,” said Nutt, who has four decades of news experience.

Portico Media purchased Free Times in 2004 from Amy Singmaster, who began publishing the newspaper in 1987, distributing 5,000 copies around town every two weeks. The purchase was part of Portico’s Southeast expansion, according to Bill Chapman, the company’s chairman. The company sold Metro Spirit, an Augusta alt-weekly, in 2011.

Chapman said he has been in talks to sell Free Times for a year, about as long as the paper has been without a publisher. Nutt, who is moving with his wife to Columbia, will serve as publisher.

He declined to disclose the purchase price. The deal was completed Wednesday.

“That’s not something that we’re going to announce,” he said.

For the previous two years Nutt, who spent 36 years as an editor and publisher of newspapers with Gannett Company, owners of media properties such as USA Today and WLTX-19, has operated Annlo Communications LLC, a New Jersey-based newspaper consulting business. His client list includes a South Carolina business, though he declined to reveal the name citing client confidentiality.

“I have been scaling back on that,” he said about the consulting pursuit. “I will continue to serve as necessary.”

Though it had humble beginnings, Free Times, according to its website, is now distributed at more than 800 Columbia area locations. The paper, which sponsors a variety of local events and hosts the Free Times Music Crawl, an annual showcase of the city’s best bands, has distribution points in Cayce, Blythewood, Ballentine, Irmo, Lexington and West Columbia.

According to a press release, current Free Times employees will be offered jobs by its new owner. Nutt added that staffers have been enthusiastic about local ownership.

“I have every indication (from) meetings with individual people that the entire staff will stay intact as far as I can tell,” he said.

An immediate area of focus for the new leadership will be online expansion, which could lead to a staff increase.

“There are some things we can do to make it more useful for people who live here, as well as people who visit here,” Nutt said about the website. “There are a lot of ideas I will be working with the staff to develop.

“I would hope over the next year or two that we would add some people to the staff.”

Reach Taylor at (803) 771-8362.

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