One newspaper, two publishers
Confusion over newspaper ownership in Lake City
LAKE CITY — Calhoun County residents are seeing double this week. Two issues of the Lake City Graphic-Advocate hit the streets this week — each with the familiar purple masthead, but each with a different publisher.
Both Chris Nelson of Nelson Media Company and Matt Grohe of Mid-America Publishing believe they are the rightful owners of The Graphic-Advocate.
Mid-America Publishing, based in Hampton, has published the Lake City newspaper for the last 15 years. Earlier this spring, news that The Graphic-Advocate was going to shut down began to spread.
On April 26, Grohe wrote a letter on The Graphic-Advocate’s Facebook page explaining that the newspaper had been losing money for years — including $18,000 in 2021 — and that he was “exploring options” for the business.
“I wish there were more drama to it that would make a more interesting story, like a fairly tale [sic] with heros, villains, damsels in distress and an epic struggle against a monolithic edifice,” Grohe wrote in that April 26 post. “But the truth is, it’s getting harder to run great papers on a shoestring.”
Nelson said in April, Grohe had reached out to him to see if he was interested in buying The Graphic-Advocate at that time, but negotiations didn’t go well.
“He wanted a lot of money for something that was losing money, in my opinion,” Nelson said.
Shortly after, Kendra Breitsprecher, owner and publisher of The Dayton Leader, stepped up to buy the Lake City newspaper, reportedly for $1. According to both Breitsprecher and Grohe, a purchase agreement was signed on May 26.
Breitsprecher took over control of the Graphic-Advocate on June 1. She published four issues and was listed as the owner/publisher on the newspaper’s masthead on all four issues, she said. Mid-America Publishing continued to do the printing.
After about a month of owning the newspaper, Breitsprecher agreed to sell it to Nelson Media Company, of Saint Ansgar.
Nelson, a former TV meteorologist, said he wanted to start growing his Nelson Media Company, which started out as a marketing agency.
“I’m a big supporter of small town communities and small town journalism, and I know the importance and I’ve seen the importance of what happens to a community without a newspaper,” Nelson said.
After Nelson took over on July 6, Grohe and Mid-America Publishing sent cease and desist letters to both Breitsprecher and Nelson, telling them both to stop doing business as The Graphic-Advocate.
“The agreement fell apart between Mid-America Publishing and the Dayton Leader, and Mid-America informed the Dayton Leader that they were revoking the agreement,” Grohe said. “The Dayton Leader agreement had not closed — there were closing conditions in the agreement that had not been met.”
Nelson disagrees, telling The Messenger that he has the purchase agreement that was signed by both Grohe and Breitsprecher on May 26.
At the closing of Mid-America Publishing’s agreement with The Dayton Leader, Grohe failed to hand over “key assets” like postal permits, P.O. box keys and access to the newspaper’s online platforms, Nelson Media Company said in an open letter posted on Thursday. In addition to two printed newspapers, there are also now two Facebook pages and websites for The Graphic-Advocate, each under the control of a different publisher.
Nelson said he feels this feud with Grohe makes the newspaper industry “look silly.”
“I don’t want any ill will toward them,” Nelson said. “I just want the newspaper because we rightfully own it at this point. I honestly don’t want to go to court over this, but it may end up having to go in this direction.”
Both publishers printed an issue of The Graphic-Advocate this week — Mid-America Publishing on Wednesday and Nelson Media on Thursday.
“We feel we have every right to publish the paper we’ve been publishing for 15 years,” Grohe said. “I’m pretty confident of that fact.”
Grohe continued, “We are honoring our obligation to publish the paper as the newspaper of record for Calhoun County. Subscribers sent us money for subscriptions that we’re continuing to honor. We feel confident the sale was not finalized and we still have an obligation to print the paper and we’re fulfilling that.”
While Grohe is currently utilizing staff from other Iowa newspapers under the Mid-America Publishing umbrella to produce the Lake City paper, Nelson has Managing Editor Tyler Anderson, who has been with The Graphic-Advocate for three-and-a-half years and has built strong relationships in the Calhoun County community.
“You cannot go anywhere without Tyler knowing someone or them knowing Tyler,” Nelson said. “Tyler was a key piece of this transaction. Having Tyler brings credibility to The Graphic Advocate. He’s got a great mind. He understands the connection between business and community. I’m really excited to work with him and the team he’s assembled is fantastic.”
Nelson said he’d like to see a resolution to this conflict with Grohe soon.
“We don’t want to make this ugly by any means,” Nelson said. “The bottom line for us is we want to be able to have a newspaper.”
Mid-America Publishing is still open to other potential buyers for The Graphic-Advocate, just not Nelson Media Company, Grohe said.
“With the very public incendiary statements that Nelson Media and many people working for Nelson Media have made, an agreement with Nelson Media will not be pursued,” he said.
Both publishers had a message they wanted to share with readers and subscribers to The Graphic-Advocate.
“We apologize for any confusion, and we’re working steadily toward a resolution,” Grohe said.
“We are going to keep the Graphic-Advocate open,” Nelson said. “We care and we want what’s best for small communities and small town journalism.”
For now, it appears both publishers will continue to print their versions of The Graphic-Advocate, with neither backing down.
“We want to make sure we’re providing that service and a great quality newspaper for our viewers and our readers,” Nelson said. “That’s of the utmost importance to us at this point.”
Next week’s issue of The Graphic-Advocate will be the 761st printed by Mid-America Publishing, Grohe said.
“I’m continuing to put out our paper,” he said. “I’m not quite sure what they’re doing.”