MIDDLEBURG,Va. — Under the comment thread headlined, "Bellissimo has bought COTH!" one person likened the Chronicle's sale to the Wall Street Journal's in 2007: "This is starting to feel a little Rupert Murdoch-ish . . . ewwwwww."
When one of the Chronicle's nearly 20 employees posted a link to the magazine editor's op-ed - headlined, "New Owner, New Future, Same Product" - one reader unleashed a verbal horse whip: "In all deference to the editorial content of the link you posted: Sounds like a lot of PR spin to me."
Bellissimo braved the forum himself, promising readers that the editors will have "free rein" in the stories they pursue, even if they're about his Florida horse show. Since Bellissimo bought the Winter Equestrian Festival in 2006, the show has grown from a laid-back affair with $2 million in prize money to a carnival-like event boasting $7.5 million in awards. It now features not just horses, but fire eaters, magicians and a carousel, all to lure in people who may not know the difference between a gelding and a stallion.
A lengthy Boston magazine story in April chronicled a long-running feud in Florida between Bellissimo and Boston Bruins owner Jeremy Jacobs, who owns a 200-acre estate near the horse show. Over the years, the Jacobs family has unsuccessfully fought Bellissimo in court and through the town council over the show's rapid expansion.
When Bellissimo heard the Chronicle was for sale, he was intrigued, he said. He thinks the magazine would complement his other equine business, and vice versa.
Clarke Ohrstrom, his family's third generation to lead the Chronicle, said in an interview that he and his siblings no longer wanted to prop up a money-losing publication, which had lost advertisers and classified ads to online competitors. The Chronicle, which comes out 40 times a year, has seen its print circulation fall to a little less than 13,000, down from 26,000 in the late 1990s. (Some of the same pressures have prompted the sale of The Washington Post to Amazon billionaire Jeffrey P. Bezos by its longtime owners, the Graham family.).