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Founders sell Cape Gazette to co-publisher

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The Cape Gazette, the leading local newspaper for Sussex County, was recently sold to its co-publisher. | PHOTO COURTESY OF CAPE GAZETTE

LEWES — The Cape Gazette, one of Delaware’s longstanding independent newspapers, has been sold to a longtime employee and co-publisher Chris Rausch.

Cape Gazette founders and former publishers Dennis Forney and Trish Vernon announced the finalized sale on Dec. 31. The deal had reportedly been in the works for months, as Forney and Vernon were focused on creating a succession plan to smooth the transition for their retirements.

Terms of the deal were not disclosed, but Forney did tell the Delaware Business Times that the sale included the publication as well as the office on Nassau Commons Boulevard in Lewes.

“We’ve had several offers from others and businesses over the years, and we always listened to what they had to say. But we both knew the power of living in your market, knowing it and knowing what really resonates with it — and how important that is for the community,” Forney told DBT.

Rausch, a Delaware native, has worked for the Cape Gazette in various roles since 2003. He was promoted to co-publisher in 2019, although he has been talking with both Forney and Vernon about the sale and transferring leadership.

“It’s been amazing to watch the community grow in the almost two decades I’ve been here. When I first moved here, January through March there was very little going on. Now, if the weather is nice enough, you could still be sitting in gridlock on a Saturday in January,” Rausch said. “I’m excited to continue to serve our growing community in the years to come.”

Chris Rausch, the co-publisher of the Cape Gazette, has bought the 29-year-old newspaper. | PHOTO COURTESY OF CAPE GAZETTE

Rausch first worked with WBOC as a photojournalist and helped open the Delmarva television news broadcasts’ office in Milton in 2002. Shortly afterward, he was hired by the Cape Gazette as an advertising account executive.

“I remember one week I was asked to answer the phone for one representative that was out, and I would get the commission check. I did so well, they decided to bring me on,” Rausch said.

From there, he worked his way up to web sales and marketing coordinator, sales and marketing manager, associate publisher and finally general manager and co-publisher.

Forney and Vernon first reported on Delaware’s Cape Region in 1975 while working at the Daily Whale, a former publication under Independent Newsmedia Inc., which also owns the Delaware State News in Dover. The pair decided to go into business together to create a publication for residents in the Rehoboth Beach, Lewes and the Cape Henlopen School District.

The Cape Gazette’s first edition was published in 1993. Eleven years later, the newspaper began publishing a Tuesday edition and relocated to its office on Nassau Commons. The newspaper now has 8,400 subscribers and another 6,000 editions hit newsstands around the region, according to Cape Gazette representatives.

The Cape Gazette online readership has also hit an all-time high in 2021, with 25 million page views and 4.5 million unique visitors to the website.

The newspaper employs 20 full-time staff members and roughly 20 contract employees, depending on the season.

Looking to the future, Rausch said he does not plan to institute major changes in the first days at the helm. But he hopes to take a deeper look at upgrading the Cape Gazette’s technology systems, both for sales and editorial staff. 

In terms of coverage of the Cape region, he notes that the growing community has a wealth of stories to handle that growth.

“There’s many people staying in their second homes here during the pandemic, and it’s underreported. When I first moved here, there were four to five restaurants open year-round, now it’s about 90% restaurants and retailers,” he said. “As the community changes and we get more attention, we have to keep looking at it through a local lens.”

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