Eleanor Merrill was named publisher of The Capital newspaper yesterday, signaling continuing family control of the Annapolis-based media company, a family lawyer said.
She is the wife of Philip Merrill, who is feared dead after disappearing on a yacht trip over the weekend. Wil Sirota, friend of the Merrills for many years, said yesterday that Philip Merrill's presumed death does not change the daily operations or makeup of Capital-Gazette Communications Inc., which also owns Washingtonian magazine.
James Brown, the company's president and general manager, has been overseeing the day-to-day publishing business for several years because of Merrill's diplomatic assignments. Sirota said the company's partnership with family-owned Landmark Communications Inc., which owns the 49.9 percent of Capital-Gazette Newspapers that the Merrill family doesn't own, remains unchanged.
"Nothing has changed since Mr. Merrill's death," said Sirota, who also serves as the publishing company's counsel. "It all stays intact."
Vice Chairman Richard F. Barry III of Landmark, whose media properties include The Virginian-Pilot newspaper in Norfolk, Va., confirmed yesterday that the partnership formed 31 years ago will continue.
Eleanor Merrill has filled The Capital publisher's post previously when her husband took on government assignments, including between 2002 and early last year while he was president and chairman of the Export-Import Bank of the United States. She stayed involved in executive meetings and offered advice even after her husband returned to his publishing job, colleagues said.
In a statement posted on The Capital's Web site yesterday, Eleanor Merrill said, "I assure our readers and employees that I will continue his work and stay faithful to his spirit."
Sirota and other colleagues said Philip Merrill, 72, has been less involved with the newspaper and Washingtonian in recent years as he focused on public service. Before serving as president of the Export-Import Bank, he served in Brussels, Belgium, as assistant secretary-general of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization from 1990 to 1992.
Because of his frequent absences, Philip Merrill tapped Brown, previously the company's controller, to ensure that operations would run smoothly, colleagues said. Brown could not be reached for comment yesterday.
"As far as we know, it's going to be business as usual," said Tom Marquardt, executive editor of The Capital. "Even when Phil was here, the day-to-day business was being operated by the general manager and executives. We kept things together. ... We don't see anything changing in the short or long run."
Philip Merrill bought what was then the Annapolis Evening Capital in 1968 and pledged to run the company on "sound business principles and the highest standards of journalism," according to an account of the newspaper's history.
Early on, he was intimately involved in turning around the newspaper, even making changes to its headlines and stories, Marquardt said.
"As the paper fulfilled his expectations, he withdrew more," Marquardt said.
The company's other publishing holdings include the Maryland Gazette, Bowie Blade-News, Crofton News-Crier, and West County and South County Gazette. Merrill bought Washingtonian in 1979 and owned Baltimore magazine from 1977 to 1992.
John Morton, a newspaper analyst, said Merrill turned his publications into valuable assets.
"Washingtonian is a very successful city magazine. The Annapolis Capital is an attractive property as well as his other properties," Morton said.
On Monday, editors at the Washingtonian replaced Philip Merrill's name on the masthead with his wife's before the July issue's printing deadline -- at the direction of Eleanor Merrill, Editor John Limpert said.
"She knows the people just as well as Phil did and knows the publications," Limpert said. "They were very much a team all the time. They were both in here last Friday; we were talking about stories."