The Dickenson Star, The Coalfield Progress and The Post have been sold to a Missouri-based newspaper company whose owners are keen on trying to help save small-town newspapers.
The sale is one of several as American Hometown Publishing, which purchased the local newspapers in 2005, comes to an end. Other holdings in Tennessee, Oklahoma, North Carolina and Florida either have already been sold or are in that process.
LCP2, LLC, an affiliate of Lewis County Press, LLC, in Canton, Mo., took ownership of the papers on Sept. 6. The Missouri company had previously purchased one other AHP paper, in Blackwell, Okla. It also owns 10 other small newspapers, mostly in Missouri but also in Arkansas, Oklahoma, Texas and Kentucky. It purchased its first newspaper in 2010.
In recent visits to Wise and Dickenson counties, company owners Phil Calian and Robert Moulton-Ely both stressed the importance of vibrant local newspapers to their communities and their commitment to the continued success of the publications.
General Manager Bill Endean, Advertising Manager Karen Tate and Editor and Publisher Jenay Tate will remain and become the leadership team of the papers. Also continuing in key positions with all three newspapers are News Editor Jeff Lester and Sports Editor Kelley Pearson.
Clarissa Williams, who had been chief operating officer at AHP, comes on board with Lewis County Press as chief executive officer.
Both Calian and Moulton-Ely also have stressed the specific importance of local news to small-town communities and identified growing that segment of the newspapers, including online content, as a goal. A new website is forthcoming.
They maintain a hands-off approach to news content, both said, having a firm belief in editorial independence.
New ownership has already meant difficult change. Local circulation and business office functions have been absorbed by the company’s home office, costing two jobs in Norton.
Also, the sale of the newspapers did not include any of the real estate, including properties in Norton and Clintwood. The buildings have been on the market for several years in keeping with a nationwide trend of newspapers divesting of real estate.
The Coalfield Progress building, built by founder Pres Atkins and centrally located in downtown Norton since roughly 1945, remains for sale, with the opportunity for the newspaper to remain as a tenant.
The Dickenson Star, which has been located at various locations throughout its history, is now strategically located in a downtown Clintwood building near town hall, the courthouse and the Ralph Stanley Museum.
Also for sale is the Dickenson County Food Bank building, former site of The Cumberland Times newspaper, which merged with The Star. The food bank will be moving to new headquarters next to the new home of the Dickenson County Department of Social Services at the old Longs Fork school. when those projects are complete.
The long-time home of The Post in Big Stone Gap was sold in 2017. That newspaper’s rental office in Cloverleaf Square is expected to close in October when the lease expires. News, sales and office staff will be headquartered with The Coalfield Progress.
The owners acknowledge the difficulty presented by the losses of long-time staff and the potential moves of the newspapers from their current homes but are steadfast in their decisions being in the absolute best interest of the newspapers.
It is the survival of the Virginia newspapers themselves that is of the utmost priority, both said.
They cite savings gained from merging feasible operations and from losing the costly expense of operating two large buildings with vastly more space than is now needed. Those savings, both noted, are better put toward priorities such as news resources and the continued financial health of the newspapers.
“Our region is suffering through another bitter cycle of trying times,” General Manager Bill Endean said, “and our business feels the brunt of what hurts our customers. As difficult as it may be to accept change, we have to adjust and hang tough together.”
Regarding the closing of the Big Stone Gap office, Endean said all three newspapers have experienced a dramatic drop in telephone and office traffic as customers everywhere have moved to communicating online, by email and by text.
Endean also said that Lewis County Press “brings to the table additional resources and some new approaches that will allow us to invest our money and time in the most important aspects of our business — news and advertising. We look forward to working with them to keep our newspapers serving our communities.”
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