When Jeff Oliver, former sports editor of the Valley Independent in Monessen, Pa., found out parent company Trib Total Media was putting the paper up for sale, he said he began contacting local investors to buy the publication. But after months of unsuccessful negotiations, no agreement could be made and the Valley Independent closed its doors in December 2015.
The story doesn’t end there though. Like a phoenix rising from the ashes, the Valley Independent has transformed into the Mon Valley Independent. In February, Oliver, two other former Valley Independent employees and four local investors launched the new publication to continue serving the local community.
Oliver said when the recession hit the Mon Valley, it hit hard. The population shrank by the thousands, so losing the local newspaper too was a huge blow to the community’s moral. “If this area loses its voice, what do we have?” he said.
The new publication’s board created Mid Mon Valley Publishing Co. and hired back 75 percent of the original Valley Independent staff. Oliver said most of the new staff is in editorial. In April, the Mon Valley Independent announced it purchased the name, archives and other rights to the former Valley Independent newspaper.
But the process wasn’t always easy. “When we started, we didn’t even have a pen,” Oliver said. Now, the newspaper has a staff, an office, furniture, a website (monvalleyindependent.com), and it published its first issue in May; some of their former advertisers and drivers have also returned.
“When our board announced we were coming back, for a month, everywhere I went I felt like a rock star,” said Oliver, who is now the paper’s managing editor. “They all said thank you for bringing our newspaper back.”
Oliver said Trib Total Media has been helpful through the process. They gave the Mon Valley Independent its previous subscription list with no obligation and serves as the paper’s printer.
While the newspaper is currently focused on building its subscriber base and settling in, Oliver said they will eventually begin building their digital offerings.
“You have to go with the times,” he said. “There’s no doubt about digital.”
Looking back, Oliver said resurrecting the Mon Valley Independent has been a labor of love and a team effort.
“We couldn’t have done this without our investors, and our investors couldn’t have done this without us,” he said. “When you believe and work hard, anything is possible.”