Fayetteville Publishing Co. is selling The Fayetteville Observer and its other businesses to GateHouse Media, LLC according to Gary Greene, Managing Director, Cribb Greene & Cope LLC who represented Fayetteville Publishing Co.
The sale will end 93 years of local ownership by the family of the late Ashton Wilson Lilly.
The Observer, which is marking its 200th anniversary this year as North Carolina’s oldest newspaper, has been the largest independently owned newspaper in North Carolina and one of the largest remaining in the South through an era of consolidation in the newspaper business.
Charles Broadwell, the company’s president and publisher and a fourth-generation member of the ownership family, announced the news in a memo to employees this morning. The transaction is expected to take place effective on Monday.
“Our family owners and board members went through extensive discussions during the past year before making the difficult decision to sell the newspaper and accept GateHouse’s offer,” Broadwell said in his email.
No terms were disclosed.
GateHouse operates newspapers and associated websites across 35 states and in hundreds of markets, CEO Kirk Davis said in a memo to Fayetteville Publishing employees.
“First, we are grateful and honored that the extended Lilly family felt comfortable transitioning ownership of its publications and affiliated businesses to GateHouse,” Davis said. “We recognize The Fayetteville Observer‘s distinction as the oldest newspaper still being published in North Carolina. And, we value the Observer‘s heritage of delivering rich local content to the Fayetteville metropolitan area, including Fort Bragg, and look forward to continuing this tradition.”
The Observer is distributed across the 10-county Cape Fear region. The newspaper was ranked No. 1 this past year for general excellence among the state’s biggest daily newspapers, in judging conducted by the North Carolina Press Association.
The sale also includes the company’s printing division, Target Printing & Distribution; its digital business, including the fayobserver.com website and Liberty Point Media digital agency; the Iwanna classified-advertising publications and related businesses based in Asheville and in Greenville, S.C.; other publications based locally including The Sandspur, Acento Latino and Fort Bragg Life; and the company’s military publishing division serving the Fort Bragg and Camp Lejeune markets.
Fayetteville Publishing Co. has about 325 employees across all locations. Its headquarters building and production plant on Whitfield Street off Camden Road are included in the sale. The company provides printing services for dozens of customers across the Southeast, including the GateHouse-owned Wilmington Star News.
“It’s a good strategic fit,” Broadwell said. “There’s a lot of emotion and local pride involved, but our company aligns well with other GateHouse properties.”
Fayetteville Publishing Co. was established in 1923 under the direction of William J. McMurray, who was Ashton Lilly’s uncle. Family members who served as publisher included her father, Charles R. Wilson; husband, Richard M. Lilly; and a son-in-law, Ramon L. Yarborough. Broadwell, a grandson, previously served as the newspaper’s editor and became the publisher upon Yarborough’s retirement in 2000.
Mrs. Lilly, the company’s longtime chairman of the board, died in 2000. Her daughter Ashton Lilly Fox is the current board chairman.
Fayetteville Publishing Co. has implemented a series of staff reductions and other streamlining moves during the past decade, similar to steps taken at other newspaper companies across the country, while diversifying with its digital and printing businesses. It also has expanded into other markets, including its purchase of the Iwanna publications in 2007.
During the past year, Fayetteville Publishing has listed its historic downtown property at Liberty Point for sale along with a vacant lot off Camden Road. The company donated a downtown parcel known for its giant oak tree, at the corner of Hay and Hillsboro streets, to the Airborne & Special Operations Museum Foundation.
Broadwell said GateHouse representatives planned to meet with the staff to discuss the transition plans.
Fayetteville Publishing Co. was represented by Gary Greene, Managing Director of Cribb, Greene & Cope, a newspaper brokerage, appraisal, and consulting firm with offices in Virginia, Montana, and Missouri.