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The owners of The Anderson News, The Anderson News Extra and numerous other community newspapers in the central Kentucky region announced last week that they are seeking a buyer for the company.
Landmark Communications Inc., headquartered in Norfolk, Va., is the parent company of Landmark Community Newspapers Inc., headquartered in Shelbyville.
Landmark Communications Inc. also operates The Weather Channel, nine daily newspapers and numerous community and specialty publications in 15 states.
The company, which reported $1.75 billion in sales in 2006, will likely be sold in pieces, according to information released on the company's website.
During a conference call with managers last week, LCNI President Mike Abernathy said Landmark would begin entertaining offers this spring and that the business could be sold by mid-summer.
No potential buyers have been named.
Abernathy said LCNI, which includes 56 community newspapers from New Mexico to Florida, would likely be sold together. He said Landmark's major daily publications, including its flagship paper the Virginian-Pilot, would likely be sold individually.
Ben Carlson, general manager of The Anderson News, said employees there were saddened to hear the news that the company might be sold.
"It did come as a shock," Carlson said. "There are employees here at The Anderson News who have devoted 30 or more years of their professional lives to LCNI. It's understandable that they would be saddened by this news."
Carlson said the sale, if it happens, would not change the newspaper's mission of delivering a top-quality news and advertising product.
"We are 100 percent committed to Anderson County and continuing to provide a terrific product for those who rely on us."
"At this early stage, we cannot speculate on where this process will lead," Landmark's chief executive and chairman Frank Batten Jr. said in an e-mailed memo to employees.
Landmark announced that it has hired national investment firms to handle the potential sale.
"I can confirm that Landmark Communications has retained investment banks JPMorgan and Lehman Brothers to assist in exploring strategic alternatives, including the possible sale of the company's businesses," said Richard F. Barry III, vice chairman of the company.
JPMorgan is advising Landmark on the sale of The Weather Channel, one of its largest properties, and Lehman Brothers is advising the company on the sale of its other media assets, Barry said.
"We are exploring strategic alternatives, and that can entail a number of possibilities, one of which is the sale of the company's businesses," he said. "It's very early in the process."
He also would not say why a decision was made now to explore the sale of the company.
The Weather Channel, based in Atlanta, is one of the last privately owned cable channels in the United States, and Landmark has been known in the past to brush aside offers for it.
With its website weather.com, The Weather Channel and its related properties could bring more than $5 billion, a person close to the sale said in an article that appeared in the Virginian-Pilot.
In an interview with The New York Times in June, Debora J. Wilson, The Weather Channel's chief executive, said, "Every media conglomeration has approached Landmark, and there's never been a yes. We actually think that we're stronger being independent."
Besides The Weather Channel, Landmark's non-newspaper properties include one of the world's biggest weather data companies, TV stations in Las Vegas and Nashville, Tenn., and Norfolk-based Dominion Enterprises, a national chain of print and online classified-ad publications, which alone represents more than $850 million in revenue.
Frank Batten Sr. was instrumental in building the company since becoming its head in 1954. He stepped down as chairman in 1998, passing the reins to his son, Frank Batten Jr.
"The thing I think I'm most proud of," Batten Sr. said in a 2000 interview, "is developing what I think is a first-rate company that has high values and makes a contribution to all the communities we serve."
The company traces itself to Samuel L. Slover, a native of Tennessee and nicknamed "The Colonel." He had been an advertising wunderkind in Richmond, Va., and had won control of a newspaper in Newport News and had sold it in 1907 to buy what would become The Norfolk Ledger-Dispatch, the biggest paper in town.
Childless, Slover raised his nephew, Frank Batten Sr., as his own, imbuing him with a passion for the news business. Frank Batten Jr. worked in the Pilot newsroom and in advertising in Roanoke and as publisher of The Virginian-Pilot, The Ledger-Star and a Landmark paper in Kentucky. He could not be reached for comment last Wednesday.