The new/old Mt Airy Times Express (Photo by Brian Rudnick)

by Pete Mazzaccaro

The Mt. Airy Times Express is back.

The Times Express and Germantown Courier, two venerable Northwest Philadelphia newspapers that were shut down in February 2009 by the Journal Register Company, were back on newsstands this week. Both are still JRC titles.

The covers of both papers will be a familiar sight to anyone familiar with the titles. And that is the point according to publisher Betsy Wilson.

“We’ve talked to many people in the area who still enjoy their printed papers, and those papers were sorely missed,” she said in an interview today. “They really wanted the papers to come back.”

The difference this time is that the two papers are printed as editions of the West Oak Lane Leader, another venerable Philadelphia title that the Journal Register Company also closed but revived again shortly after it closed the Times Express and Courier two years ago. The Times Express and Courier were among a number of titles the company closed when  the Yardley-based company declared bankruptcy in February 2009. Wilson said that all three titles are essentially the same paper but that the first three to four pages are zoned locally and will contain local news specific to the title.

Also different is that the papers are no longer produced in Mt. Airy. Both titles — as is the case with the West Oak Lane Leader — are produced by Montgomery Media out of the Roxborough Review newspaper office in Roxborough. Montgomery Media is a division of JRC based in Fort Washington.

Wilson said that reader demand explained why JRC would relaunch the titles, even at a time when success in print is hard to come by. Clearly the company also sees advertising opportunities in the market. The company has been transformed since emerging from bankruptcy with a new CEO, John Paton, who has set digital media development as the company’s number one priority. Under Paton, JRC has adopted the motto “digital first.”  Digital media writer Jeff Jarvis, the author of “What Would Google Do” who recently spoke at an event sponsored by the Chestnut Hill Center for Enrichment, is a member of Paton’s advisory board. Wilson, citing Paton’s digital first credo, suggested that web versions of the titles were in the works.

Last fall, Paton announced a partnership with hyperlocal news provider to create a news and advertising portal in Philadelphia that would draw content from a mix of the company’s newspaper sites, bloggers and other sources.

Jim Foster, publisher of the biweekly Germantown Chronicle and Mt. Airy Independent — both started specifically to fill the void left by the Times Courier and Courier — told the Local that he was surprised to see the title on a store shelf this week.

“I’m somewhat surprised that in a community the JRC was quick to jettison, they have suddenly come to the conclusion that newspapers here are a productive way to make money,” he said. “There may be other motives in starting these papers back up so close to an election.”

Is he concerned about the competition? After paging through the first issue of the Times Express, Foster said he see no cause for alarm.

“I’m not worried unless all of a sudden they start becoming conveyors of real local news,” he said. “I believe we’ve done the job of reporting information in Northwest Philadelphia with the kind of detail our readers expect.”

Wilson said that the new editions of the TImes Express and the Courier are free and available at 250 locations.