CHARLESTON, W.Va. — The Charleston Gazette-Mail reported that most of its employees have been retained by the newspaper’s new owners.

New owners H-D Media faced a Monday deadline to let staff know who would stay on as the newspaper emerges from bankruptcy.

A total of 168 people received employment offers from HD Media on Monday, the newspaper reported.

Eleven people who filled out applications did not receive employment offers, the Gazette-Mail wrote. The newspaper did not name the 11 in its article published Monday evening.

And 29 more positions represented employees who did not apply for jobs with HD Media or positions that were already vacant. Those will not be filled for the time being, the newspaper reported.

At the end of January, as the newspaper was being prepared for bankruptcy proceedings, Charleston Newspapers issued a WARN notice to more than 200 employees. That indicated the possibility of more than 50 layoffs.

Attorneys for H-D Media have said they intend to close the purchase of the newspaper out of bankruptcy by the end of this month, which is Friday.

A portion of the court order authorizing the sale that deals with employees says the purchaser would furnish a list of employees it intends to keep on within five days prior to the closing.

Contacted this morning about the transition, H-D Media owner Doug Reynolds declined to discuss the purchase until after the closing date. His company also publishes Huntington’s Herald-Dispatch.

Reynolds was introduced in bankruptcy court as a new owner along with Brian Jarvis, who owns NCWV Publishing, publisher of Clarksburg’s Exponent-Telegram. Reynolds quickly confirmed this morning that Jarvis remains involved.

Last week, the company named veteran newspaper leader Jim Heady as publisher of the Gazette-Mail. Heady has been over the newspaper’s circulation department and has worked as an advertising manager for the company.

“There’s a tradition the paper has,” Heady told the Gazette-Mail for an article about his promotion. “Especially with the newsroom and all of the accomplishments they’ve had over the past year, it’s going to be challenging to try to keep up the way things have been going. It’s exciting, but it’s going to be challenging.”

Other employees of the Charleston Gazette-Mail earlier this month received an application form asking for basic information, with the option of also attaching a resume.

The order authorizing the sale, which was filed after a March 8 hearing, continues to include a provision where employees designated as key to the newspaper’s operation receive a financial bonus at the time of the closure.

The total bonus payout is $151,250. The portion of that each employee would receive is based on a percentage of their base salary.

The provision was meant to ensure the stability and quality of the operation during the transition period. It specifically says the new owner may or may not decide to retain the key employees after the sale is concluded.

The key employees have included: Heady, the newspaper’s vice president for circulation; Michael Moncada, vice president for advertising; Linda Hennen, controller; Joel Armstrong, IT director; executive editor Rob Byers; Dawn Miller, editor of the Gazette editorial page; and reporters Eric Eyre, Ken Ward Jr. and Phil Kabler.

The change in ownership moved ahead early this month when Ogden Newspapers declined to increase its original bid for the Gazette-Mail after H-D Media entered the picture. H-D Media’s bid was $11.5 million, which included a breakup fee for Ogden.

A federal bankruptcy judge gave approval for H-D Media’s purchase early this month.

The newspaper company reported more than $31 million in liabilities, according to documents filed in bankruptcy court.

About half of that, $15.6 million, represented an outstanding United Bank loan balance, plus interest and fees, from 2006.

Much of the debt was from the Charleston Gazette’s purchase of the Charleston Daily Mail.

The two newsrooms continued to operate independently, as a result of antitrust oversight by the federal government, until 2015 when the newsrooms merged. The owners described a more efficient operation as one of the reasons.

Many of the current newsroom employees reapplied for their jobs at that time, too.

The Charleston Gazette-Mail was awarded a Pulitzer Prize in 2017 for investigative reporting by Eric Eyre focusing on how a wave of pharmaceuticals contributed to West Virginia’s opioid crisis. The Daily Mail, which was owned for many years by the Clay family, won a Pulitzer for commentary written by Jack Maurice in 1975.

The Gazette and then the Gazette-Mail have been closely-held by the Chilton family.

The Chilton family first acquired formal interest in the paper about 1912, and the family has continued to hold the majority interest. Trip Shumate is married to Susan Chilton Shumate, the current publisher. Her mother, Elizabeth Chilton, is president of the Daily Gazette Company.

 

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