Are changes in store for the Houston Press and/or Dallas Observer? If there are, they will probably be measured.

New Times Media, which owns both the Houston Press and the Dallas Observer announced today it plans to merge with Village Voice Media. That''s pretty grown-up stuff for a couple of organizations that have made a living out of harnessing and marketing their respective perpetual adolescent angst.

According to a joint news release, the new company will be called Village Voice Media and will publish free weekly newspapers and Web sites in 17 of the nation''s largest markets. 

Clearly, that''s due to the fact that the Village Voice is the preeminent brand in alternative media. The fact that New Times chief executive officer Jim Larkin will be CEO of the new company and New Times executive editor Michael Lacey will be executive editor of the combined operation means this is not a "merger of equals." Village Voice CEO David Schneiderman is being relegated to the position of president of Village Voice Digital.

Village Voice Media will have a combined weekly audited circulation of 1.8 million papers and 4.3 million readers weekly when the merger is completed. Even the Voice''s advertising sales machine looks to get gutted, as Village Voice papers will join New Times'' national advertising sales agency Ruxton Media Group.

In addition to Dallas and Houston, Village Voice Media will have papers and Web sites in New York, Los Angeles, San Francisco, Phoenix, Denver, Miami, Seattle, St. Louis, Orange County, Minneapolis, Cleveland, Kansas City, Nashville, the East Bay including Oakland and Berkeley, and the Ft. Lauderdale/West Palm Beach area. 

I enjoy picking up the Press and the Observer. I like how they challenge mainstream sensibilities and provide in-depth local news coverage that the dailies often have to pass on because of budget and manpower constraints. I wouldn''t go so far as to call them fair and balanced, but if your organization is above board and has nothing to hide, chances are you have nothing to worry about.

Pending federal regulatory approval, the New Times/Voice merger is expected to be completed by early 2006.