The Baltimore Sun Media Group announced Thursday it has purchased The Capital in Annapolis, the Carroll County Times and other area publications and websites, a move that expands its journalistic footprint in Maryland.
The financial terms of the transaction were not disclosed, but BSMG officials said the publications acquired from Norfolk, Va.-based Landmark Media Enterprises would continue as separate news organizations.
"We want these publications to remain a valued source of news and opinions on local politics, communities, sports and the arts in Anne Arundel and Carroll counties," Timothy E. Ryan, publisher, president and CEO of the Baltimore Sun Media Group, said in a note to staff.
"Consistent with our approach when we acquired other newspapers, such as The Aegis, Towson Times and Howard County Times, the editorial voice in these publications will remain independent from The Baltimore Sun," he said.
BSMG operates the stable of local, Baltimore-area newspapers it acquired from Patuxent Publishing Co. in the 1990s and continues to publish them. The Landmark purchase further expands the company's coverage area, which includes the city and five-county region. It comes weeks after BSMG purchased the Baltimore alternative weekly, City Paper.
The Landmark deal, observers said, not only expands BSMG's readership but also its business after years of tumult in the the media industry.
William Grueskin, dean of academic affairs and professor of professional practice at Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism, said the purchase gives BSMG more advertising opportunities. "And editorially, it may enable The Sun to get better or more comprehensive coverage from outlying areas onto its site."
In addition to the 177-year-old Sun, BSMG now operates dozens of weekly newspapers, magazines and websites, and its products reach more than 1.2 million readers a week.
Lucy Dalglish, dean of the journalism school at the University of Maryland, College Park, said that the "economic realities" of the industry have made acquisitions a key strategy for media businesses.
"If you now can share resources, there's potential for greater efficiencies," Dalglish said, adding that while the loss of any competition is worrisome in any media market, in this case, "you're not going to lose the publications."
As part of the Landmark transaction, BSMG bought that company's Maryland publications, including the flagship Annapolis newspaper and its website, CapitalGazette.com, and Anne Arundel County-based publications the Maryland Gazette, Crofton-West County Gazette, Bowie Blade News, Capital Style Magazine and the Anne Arundel County Guidebook.
In Carroll County, BSMG bought the daily Carroll County Times, CarrollCountyTimes.com, Community Times, Carroll Living, Central Maryland Homes, three Advocate newspapers, three Purchasing Power papers and the Mason-Dixon Marketplace and Shopper.
The Landmark publications employ about 200, and it was unclear whether any would face layoffs or job changes. "We will be spending the next few weeks learning more about both operations," BSMG spokeswoman Renee Mutchnik said.
Barry Rascovar, a longtime political columnist — his work has appeared in The Sun, the Gazette in the Washington suburbs and the MarylandReporter.com — said he was "pleasantly surprised" by the acquisition, which he said can help BSMG better encompass the diversity of opinion in the state.
Rascovar, also a communications consultant, writes a column for Community Times, one of the publications purchased by BSMG.
Rascovar said the purchases could help "rebuild" The Sun's coverage of the two counties, Anne Arundel and Carroll County, which the newspaper previously covered with more reporters than it does now.
BSMG is owned by the Tribune Co., which is in the process of spinning off its portfolio of newspapers, including the Chicago Tribune and the Los Angeles Times.
In a Securities and Exchange Commission filing detailing the spinoff, Tribune said it would consider "strategic acquisitions" that add to its publishing businesses. The Hartford Courant, another Tribune newspaper, announced in March it would buy a number of free weekly publications in Connecticut.
Tribune officials have faced criticism from Rep. Henry Waxman and others who have questioned whether the spinoff would put newspaper finances at risk by requiring the unit to pay a cash dividend to the parent. Tribune emerged from bankruptcy in December 2012.
Kelly McBride, a senior faculty member of the journalism think tank the Poynter Institute, said the Landmark purchases should increase BSMG's value.
"It makes the paper more attractive to potential buyers and financiers," she said. "You have a more stable and predictable, if declining, advertising revenue."
Ryan said in notes to the company's Maryland staffs that he would meet with staff over the next several days.
Landmark owns several daily newspapers, including The Virginian-Pilot in Norfolk, Va., as well as television, weekly and other media assets.
Michael Abernathy, president of the Landmark Publishing Group, said in a statement that Landmark would "miss the many good people associated with these fine media companies."
"We wish them continued success and plan to work closely in the coming months with the BSMG leadership team to effect a smooth and successful transition," he said.
Landmark's Capital Gazette Communications, which publishes The Capital, is one of the country's oldest publishers with roots to 1727, when the Maryland Gazette was founded. The Capital was born as The Evening Capital in 1884 and remains an evening newspaper. Philip Merrill owned the company from 1968 to 2007. Landmark, which held a minority ownership in the news organization during Merrill's tenure, purchased the rest of the company after Merrill's death.
The Capital has a Sunday print circulation of about 34,000 and a daily circulation of 29,000. Its community newspapers combine for a weekly circulation of almost 88,000.
The Carroll County Times was founded in 1911. It was published twice a week when Landmark purchased it in 1974. It began publishing seven days a week in 1987.
The Carroll County Times has a Sunday circulation of about 25,000 and a daily circulation of 21,000. Its community publications combine for a weekly circulation of about 116,000 and its monthly publications combine for 162,000.