Columbia alt-weekly the Free Times was purchased last week by the parent company of The Post and Courier, Evening Post Industries.

The acquisition of what was one of South Carolina’s few remaining independent alternative weeklies has left many questioning the future direction of the publication, which has earned a reputation in the Midlands for strong political coverage and investigative journalism. News of the buyout also came with the announcement that Chris Ratliff will step in as publisher, while Andy Shain, former politics and higher-education reporter for Columbia daily The State, will serve double duty as editor for the Free Times and The Post and Courier’s political news website PalmettoPolitics.com.

“As far as the day-to-day things that the Free Times covers, we would expect them to continue their format. It’s really very similar to what we allow for our community papers, too. We have three Statehouse reporters in Columbia for The Post and Courier, but we would allow Free Times or any of our community newspapers that we own to utilize any of that content,” says P.J. Browning, senior vice president of Evening Post Industries and publisher of The Post and Courier. “Andy overseeing the three Columbia reporters, that just makes it very easy for him to be able to utilize them in case the Free Times wants to do something regarding politics, and what they want is probably going to be a little bit edgier than what we would have, but that’s fine. Andy can coordinate and work with those reporters, but we don’t want the Free Times to lose its alt flavor.”

Browning adds, “I’ve seen the history of when a daily paper buys an alt. The main goal is to get out of the way and not mess up the alt. You’ve got to keep those separate.”