01-01-21 | Printable Version

Landmark Communications Completes Sale of Remaining Newspaper Holdings, Exiting Industry

With the sale of its remaining community newspapers to Paxton Media Group, Landmark Communications has ended its 116-year history in the newspaper industry.

Frank Batten, Jr., the company’s current chairman, is the third family member to hold the top role of the company.

Landmark was founded by Batten’s great-uncle, Samuel Slover, who started in the newspaper business at the age of 20. Slover became 50% owner of the Newport News (VA) Times-Herald before the age of 30 and went on to dominate Virginia’s newspaper industry during the next several decades, at one point owning or controlling a half dozen of Virginia's largest newspapers.

Slover was known for his ability to rescue ailing newspapers, nursing them from red to black ink. These struggling papers were often merged to create larger, healthier dailies, resulting in some of Landmark's flagship publications, including the Virginian-Pilot and the Ledger-Star.

The company, headquartered near the major Newport News military installation, took advantage of the region's rapid growth, moving into other media as well. In 1930, Slover took a chance, acquiring Virginia's first radio station (Norfolk's WTAR-AM) for $10,000.

Frank Batten, Slover’s nephew, took the reins of the company in 1954 at the age of 27. Batten had served in the merchant marines during World War II, going on to graduate from the University of Virginia in 1950 and receiving an M.B.A. from Harvard University in 1952.

Batten moved the company into television and cable while also adding additional newspapers. The company eventually had 21 cable franchises in 15 states, reaching 740,000 subscribers nationwide. The division, TeleCable, spun off into an independent corporation in 1984. In 1995, TeleCable was sold for more than $1 billion to rival Tele-Communications Inc., the largest cable TV operator in the United States.

During this time, Batten also expanded the company’s newspaper holdings with the purchase of the Greensboro (NC) Daily News, The Greensboro (NC) Record, and the Roanoke (VA) Times & World-News.

He also started a community newspaper division with the acquisition of four smaller dailies – the Carroll County (MD) Times, Citrus County (FL) Chronicle, Elizabethtown (KY) News-Enterprise, and Los Alamos (NM) Monitor – as well as 31 weeklies and 38 shoppers. This division was named Landmark Community Newspapers.

In the 1970s, Batten acquired television stations in Nevada, California, and Tennessee. One of these television stations, WTVF, is known for its hiring of a college student in 1974 who was destined for great things – Oprah Winfrey.

In the 1980s, the company developed The Weather Channel, the company’s first national venture. It was sold in 2008 for $3.5 billion and considered by many as the company’s greatest achievement.

The company also created and sold a network of travel channels, an outdoor advertising division, travel guide division and tradeshow division. The company also joined with Atlanta-based Cox Enterprises, Inc. to form Trader Publishing Company, a 50-50 joint venture that combined the classified advertising publications operations of Landmark Target Media and Cox’s Trader Publications.

In 1998, Frank Batten, Jr. became chairman of the company.

In 2008, Landmark explored selling the entire company. The sale was only partially successful, due to the onset of the Great Recession which took hold during the sale process.

The company gradually sold many of its newspaper assets and specialty publications during the following 10 years, including its flagship Norfolk (VA) Virginian-Pilot and Maryland newspapers to Tribune Publishing in 2018 and 2014, and the Greensboro (NC) News & Record and Roanoke (VA) Times to BH Media in 2013.

Earlier this year, the company sold its group of suburban Denver newspapers to a local Denver publisher, Colorado Community Media, and one of its Indiana weeklies to Better Newspapers, Inc.

The remaining group of 46 newspapers acquired by Paxton Media Group this month represent the last of Landmark’s newspaper holdings.

These papers, primarily clustered in the Mid-Atlantic region and headquartered in Kentucky, were compiled beginning in the early 1970s. At its peak, Landmark Community Newspapers had 141 different publications which included daily and weekly newspapers, as well as shoppers, niche publications, and 17 separate printing facilities.

Paxton Media Group will move the group’s headquarters to its Paducah, Kentucky base.