Thursday, January 03, 2008

Landmark, a leading rural publisher, explores sale

The Batten family that owns Landmark Communications Inc. of Norfolk is exploring a sale of its assets, including Landmark Community Newspapers Inc., one of the nation's largest publishers of rural newspapers.

“We are exploring strategic alternatives, and that can entail a number of possibilities, one of which is the sale of the company’s businesses,” Richard Barry III, the parent firm's vice chairman, told The Virginian-Pilot, the company's flagship paper. It also owns The News and Record of Greensboro, N.C., and The Roanoke Times. "Officials are holding a series of meetings this afternoon with Virginian-Pilot employees to discuss plans to explore selling the Norfolk-based company," Bill Choyke, Jim Washington and Philip Walzer write for the Norfolk daily, quoting an e-mail from Chairman Frank Batten Jr.: "At this early stage, we cannot speculate on where this process will lead."

Landmark's best known and most profitable property is The Weather Channel, "one of the last privately owned cable channels in the United States," they write. (Read more) "It ranked 42nd in total viewers among all advertising-supported cable networks" during the third quarter, reports Jon Lafayette of TV Week. The channel's Web site,, had more than 32 million unique users in November, making it the 18th largest media site by traffic, according to Nielsen/NetRatings.

The company's community newspaper subsidiary, based in Shelbyville, Ky., has "54 paid newspapers in 13 states, 40 free newspapers and shoppers, 16 offset commercial printing plants, seven collegiate sports publications, and 30 special publications such as real estate guides and homes magazines," according to its Web site. The papers are known for their quality and local editorial autonomy.

UPDATE, Jan. 4: The sale of Landmark's papers would be "the largest sale of Kentucky media properties" ever, as far as the number of markets affected, Al Cross of the Institute for Rural Journalism and Community Issues tells Jim Jordan of the Lexington Herald-Leader. The Herald-Leader map shows LCNI has 17 weeklies, a daily and a publication that follows University of Kentucky sports. More Cross, via Jordan: "Landmark's Kentucky newspapers would probably be sold as a group because they are clustered in adjoining counties to reduce business costs, such as printing, he said. 'The most immediate threat' to strong news coverage would occur, Cross added, if a new owner decided to consolidate news operations and report news for several local papers from only one location. 'These are distinctive local editorial voices, which I think is important,' he said. 'If you run into clustering and consolidation on the editorial side to save money, there is probably going to be a decline in quality.'" (Read more)

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