Gazette-Mail filing for bankruptcy; Ogden Newspapers current high bidder

CHARLESTON, W.Va. — The Charleston Gazette-Mail is filing for Chapter 11 bankruptcy and Wheeling Newspapers is in the front of the line to purchase it. The change in ownership could result in layoffs.

According to a Monday evening story in the Gazette-Mail, the bankruptcy filing will occur Tuesday opening up a 60-day window when another company could come in and outbid Wheeling Newspapers.

The City of Charleston received the WARN Notice Monday afternoon:

“Charleston Newspapers is being sold to Wheeling Newspapers, Inc. or such other entity that may place a higher bid for the company’s assets at an auction. As a result of the sale, the employment of 206 employees will be terminated no sooner than 60 days from today on or about March 30, 2018. The termination will impact all job titles and job classifications of Charleston Newspapers.”

A WARN Notice has to be issued if more than 50 people could be laid off. The newspaper currently employs 209 workers.

Wheeling Newspapers, Inc. is the parent company of the Ogden Newspaper chain which owns the Wheeling Intelligencer, the Elkins Inter-Mountain, the Martinsburg Journal and the Parkersburg News and Sentinel.

Earlier court filings said bankruptcy would be a part of any sale.

“The Charleston Gazette, now the Charleston Gazette-Mail, has been my family’s passion for the last century,” said publisher Susan Chilton Shumate in a letter to employees that was part of a Gazette-Mail story Monday evening. “To follow in the footsteps of Ned Chilton, my father, and Betty Chilton, my mother, as publisher of this paper has been a tremendous honor for me and my family. At the end of this process, we will be letting go of that passion.”

Charleston Mayor Danny Jones said it was difficult news to receive.

“It’s an incredible era that’s ending in Charleston,” Jones said. “I hope that we have a stable newspaper in the area. We’ve heard about it for a long time. To me it’s very sad.”

Jones remains confident the newspaper would still be strong.

“I think Charleston will end up having a viable newspaper,” Jones said. “I think like so many other things that are going on in this era, this is just another transition we are going through. Hopefully it will work out.”

Kanawha County Commission President Kent Carper echoed Jones’ comments in a statement released Monday evening.

“I join Mayor Danny Jones in recognizing that this is truly the end of an era, and I also urge the new owners to provide the current employees with an opportunity for employment.” Carper said. “We can not quantify the benefit that the Charleston Gazette, the Daily-Mail, and recently the Charleston Gazette-Mail provided to the Kanawha Valley and its people. During times of war, times of tragedy, and times of great joy, our local paper always brought to the public true, professional journalism. Today is a sad day.”

The newspaper’s history dates back to the late 1800s with the publication settling on the name “The Charleston Gazette” in 1907.

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

The Gazette combined with The Charleston Daily Mail 2015, with owners describing a more efficient operation as one of the reasons.

MediaNews Group, now doing business as Digital First Media, filed a breach of contract claim. The company had sold its minority share in Charleston Newspapers a decade earlier but continued to be paid a management fee for its continued association with the Daily Mail.

U.S. District Judge Thomas Johnston upheld $3.8 million arbitration ruling against the newspaper in a decision that came down last Friday.

Ogden Newspapers was founded in 1890 by H.C. Ogden and is still operated by descendants, the Nutting family, which owns the Pittsburgh Pirates. Ogden operates newspapers in Florida, Hawaii, Indiana, Iowa, Kansas, Maryland, Michigan, Minnesota, New Hampshire, New York, North Dakota, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Utah, Virginia and West Virginia, serving mostly small markets.

Ogden was a potential buyer of the Charleston Daily Mail in 2004 but the Gazette took its first right of refusal option.

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