CHARLESTON, W.Va. (AP) — The owner of the Charleston Gazette-Mail, which won a Pulitzer Prize last year for its coverage of the state's opioid drug crisis, has warned its entire staff of pending layoffs and said it plans to file for Chapter 11 bankruptcy and find a potential buyer.
The Gazette-Mail reports its owner, Charleston Newspapers, issued the 60-day layoff notice to its 209 employees Monday afternoon.
Charleston Newspapers President Trip Shumate said the company plans to file for Chapter 11 protection Tuesday.
The newspaper said buyers are being sought and the highest current bidder was Wheeling-based Ogden Newspapers, which owns more than 40 daily newspapers nationwide, including several in West Virginia. Any potential buyer would have the decision whether to retain the employees.
An after-hours call to Ogden Newspapers wasn't immediately returned late Monday.
The Charleston Gazette and Charleston Daily Mail combined newsrooms in 2015. Their business, circulation, advertising and production departments had been one unit since 1958.
In April 2017, Gazette-Mail reporter Eric Eyre won a Pulitzer Prize for investigative reporting on the opioid crisis.
Last week a federal judge upheld an arbitrator's ruling that ordered Charleston Newspapers to pay nearly $3.8 million to MediaNews Group, the former owners of the Charleston Daily Mail. The figure represented the profit from the Charleston Newspapers' sale of the Daily Mail, including its internet address, and other fees and costs.
Earlier this month, a MediaNews Group official disclosed in court documents that negotiations were ongoing with an undisclosed bidder to purchase the Gazette-Mail.
While Ogden Newspapers was identified as the highest current bidder, other potential bidders would be allowed to step forward. Shumate said the hope is that all of the Gazette-Mail's employees would be rehired by the new owner.
"Once free from the liabilities that have been holding our operations back, we hope that they will be able to maintain the high level of journalism our customers and this community have come to expect," Shumate said.
In a letter to employees, Publisher Susan Chilton Shumate said the newspaper "has been my family's passion for the last century.
"To follow in the footsteps of Ned Chilton, my father, and Betty Chilton, my mother, as publisher of this paper has been a tremendous honor for me and my family. At the end of this process, we will be letting go of that passion."