Landmark Communications Inc., parent of Landmark Community Newspapers, Inc. (LCNI), owner of the Williston Pioneer Sun News, has hired national investment firms to explore selling the Norfolk, Va.-based company.
"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.
He declined to say whether the company would be sold in whole or part, or at all.
"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 Web site weather.com, The Weather Channel and its related properties could bring more than $5 billion, a person close to the sale said.
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."
Landmark's 2006 sales figures were estimated at $1.75 billion, according to Hoover's, which tracks private companies. Landmark is parent to nine daily newspapers and more than 100 non-daily newspaper and specialty publications.
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."
In September 2005, Frank Batten Jr. indicated that he wanted to reduce the company's dependence on classified advertising and that he would seek to sell Landmark's share in Trader Publishing Co., a joint operation with Cox Enterprises. A year later, Landmark split Trader's assets with Cox.
Cox retained ownership of Trader's automotive classified advertising business, while Landmark kept businesses including apartment, employment and real estate publications. Landmark renamed the collection of remaining businesses Dominion Enterprises.