The owners of the Charleston Gazette-Mail agreed Monday to take the company into Chapter 11 bankruptcy.
Wheeling Newspapers is currently the high bidder to assume ownership of the company.
The company, operated by the Nutting family, owns more than 40 daily newspapers across the nation, including the Wheeling, Parkersburg, Martinsburg and Elkins newspapers in West Virginia.
Charleston Newspapers, the company that owns the Gazette-Mail, issued a WARN notice to all employees Monday afternoon.
A Worker Adjustment and Retraining Notification Act notice warns of the potential for layoffs exceeding 50 employees. Charleston Newspapers currently employs 206 people.
Wheeling Newspapers could decide to maintain current employment levels, but because that will remain unknown until the bankruptcy runs its course, Charleston Newspapers decided to issue the WARN notice, under advice of its attorneys.
“Our hope is that Wheeling Newspapers will hire all of our employees,” said Trip Shumate, company president and chief financial officer. “Once free from the liabilities that have been holding our operations back, we hope that they will be able to maintain the high level of journalism our customers and this community have come to expect.”
In April, the Gazette-Mail and reporter Eric Eyre received the Pulitzer Prize for investigative reporting for coverage of the state’s opioid crisis.
“I join [Charleston] 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,” said Kanawha County Commissioner Kent Carper. “We cannot 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.”
Shumate said the company plans to file for Chapter 11 on Tuesday, which would start an approximately 60-day countdown until new ownership could take over.
During that time, there is a 30-day auction window, when other potential buyers could step forward and try to outbid Wheeling Newspapers.
The newspaper industry as a whole has been battered by heavy losses in advertising revenue and circulation for years. Charleston Newspapers was no different.
In August, arbitrator Edward McDevitt ruled the Gazette-Mail’s owners had to pay nearly $3.8 million to the former owners of the Daily Mail. The award represented the profit from the Gazette-Mail owner’s sale of the dailymail.com internet address, past-due management fees, future management fees to the company — MediaNews — attorneys fees, court costs and post-judgment interest.
Charleston Newspapers combined the Daily Mail and Gazette into the Gazette-Mail in 2015.
“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. “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.”
The Chilton family has owned a Charleston newspaper for 110 years, since 1907, when the family of Charleston politician, lawyer and businessman William E. Chilton bought the city’s Daily Gazette and renamed it the Charleston Gazette. Chilton became publisher of the newspaper in 1917, after he lost his re-election bid to the U.S. Senate.
William E. Chilton’s son, W.E. Chilton II, and grandson, W.E. “Ned” Chilton III, also served as publisher. Ned Chilton ran the paper from 1961 until his death in 1987. Under his stewardship, the newspaper became a major force for reform and became known for Chilton’s trademark phrase, “sustained outrage.”
Trip Shumate said advertisers and customers should be assured that Charleston Newspapers will continue with its current level of service during the transition period.