By Brooke Lehto and staff reports
The Riverton Ranger
RIVERTON — Last January, local businesswoman Grace Andrus purchased The Riverton Ranger, Lander Journal and Wind River News from the Peck family, naming the new company Wyoming Media.
Steve Peck had been publisher of the properties since his father, Bob, retired, co-owning the company with his brother, Chris, who is also in the newspaper business in Nashville, Tennessee.
Andrus began discussions with Steve Peck in the middle of last year about possibly buying the papers with discussions becoming more serious in the fall. It ultimately culminated in Andrus purchasing the company.
“If a community loses a paper, I know that it is very hard, if ever, to get it back,” Andrus said in
how important it was for her to keep the local publication alive.
As there were no known family members interested in continuing Peck’s newspaper legacy, Andrus said “selling it to another buyer was a good option for them.”
“My goal for The Ranger was to have a local paper focused on local issues and local news,” she
As Andrus considered buying the papers, she knew she wanted the employees who have
dedicated so much time and effort into the newspapers to have an opportunity to build something for their future and have skin in the game.
Not knowing the details of what that would look like, she relayed her vision for the paper had always included an employee partnership.
With that in the back of her mind, she discovered the Wind River Radio Network – now branded as WyoToday – had recently transferred its ownership from the Edwards family to the employees and reached out to see if the Edwards Group would be willing to work with her in transitioning her newly acquired property into the employee ownership model.
The Edwards Group – owners of the Wind River Radio Network – is led by Jerry Edwards and has radio stations and newspapers scattered across four states. Like Peck, he took over for his father, Bob Edwards, two decades ago.
Last July, Jerry Edwards turned his company over to the employees. Today, the Edwards Group operates as an Employee Stock Option Plan, or ESOP, with Edwards serving as chief executive officer.
“Like Grace said, my employees have given so much to our company. Many of them have been with me for 20 years or more and I wanted a way to give something back to them,” Edwards said. “In the end after exploring a lot of different options, I decided to just give them the company.”
After speaking with Andrus about her intentions, Edwards offered her the chance to bring her publications under the Edwards Group, meaning her employees didn’t just now own a portion of Wyoming Media. By bringing Wyoming Media into the Edwards Media Group family, they now own a portion of the entire company.
“It really was a win-win for everyone involved,” Edwards said. “Her employees are now a part of an even larger more successful company, but they also got the guidance and expertise of a group of well-run newspapers across four states. The staff here is no longer on an island all alone. They’re now a part of a team of newspaper pros who are all pulling for their success.”
SHIELDS NOW PUBLISHER
Today, Andrus is announcing she will be handing over the reigns as publisher of the three newspapers to Kevin Shields.
Shields has been with the Edwards Media Group for the last five years and in Riverton as general manager for the radio stations since last year. He is a career newspaper veteran with stops in Georgia, Vermont, Texas and South Carolina.
“My children, and maybe even my wife, have become newspaper brats in some sense,” Shields said. “In this business, as you grow you move and I’ve been fortunate to work with some brilliant people. I’ve learned an awful lot and plan on bringing that to Riverton and Lander in helping this staff make this the best newspaper it can be.”
Now, in the hands of the employees, Andrus wished the newspaper success as it continues serving the community.
“I am happy to continue focusing on my business as a financial advisor, fully serving my clients,” she said.