In the News: 'In equine-crazy Middleburg, a horse magazine sale stirs controversy'

That's the headline from a Washington Post Metro story about the sale of the Chronicle of the Horse to Wellington developer Mark Bellissimo.

The 76-year-old magazine, headquartered in Middleburg, Va., has been operating in the red in recent years, struggling like many periodicals (the Post included) to stay afloat in an era when the future of print media seems uncertain.

Ribbet collage

Chronicle design, past and present

The Post/Chronicle parallels continue. Both were family-owned for decades–the Graham family owned the Post for 80 years; the Ohrstrom family owned the Chronicle for 76. Both were purchased by deep-pocketed entrepreneurs over the summer, with Amazon founder Jeff Bezos stepping in to rescue the Post on Aug. 5 and Bellissimo purchasing the Chronicle on July 12.

Bellissimo, who has transformed the Winter Equestrian Festival's image from stuffy to spectator-friendly since acquiring it in 2006, now has his sights set on getting the Chronicle back on its feet. He has big ideas for getting the publication ahead of the digital curve and the resources to propel those ideas into motion.

According to the Post,

Bellissimo wants to focus on making the magazine profitable, luring advertisers that already sponsor his Florida horse show and others, too; promoting the print edition more; and revamping the Web site, which is expected to reach 4 million annual unique visitors by the end of 2013. He also wants to live-stream horse show events, including his own, on the magazine’s Web site.”

The Post article paints reactions to the sale as mixed, citing some sentimental skepticism among readers and the local community. But the Post notes, “That sense of melancholy doesn’t extend to the Chronicle’s newsroom, which is buzzing with optimism.”

In a July 15 editorial, “Reflections On Our Sale,” Senior Editor Kat Netzler defended the Chronicle against accusations that the publication's editorial integrity might be tainted by Bellissimo's business interests:

We are ferocious stewards of this magazine, and if you think we’d be content to watch the Chronicle wither away to nothing but a vanity rag, you’ve got another thing coming, mister.”

Several Post veterans have expressed bittersweet relief that their publication is being given an opportunity not just to survive, but to possibly help remake the newspaper industry from the inside out. As Stanford University's John Temple put it in this Post article,

[Bezos] came from virtually nowhere and transformed retail. The hope here is that he's better equipped to do the same for journalism because he's not burdened by the experience of those of us who grew up in the print era.”

Here's Post associate editor Bob Woodward, who along with Carl Bernstein won a Pulitzer Prize for their Watergate investigation, speaking about the Bezos sale:

Read the full Washington Post story here.

Go Riding.



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