- The Washington Times - Wednesday, April 25, 2007

Landmark Communications Inc. took over the Annapolis Capital and its five sister newspapers yesterday, nearly a year after the death of publisher Phillip Merrill.

Landmark, a Norfolk media conglomerate that owns the Weather Channel, Weather.com and the Virginian-Pilot, will have complete ownership of Capital-Gazette Newspapers, which publishes the Capital, Maryland Gazette, Bowie Blade-News, Crofton News-Crier, West County Gazette and South County Gazette.

The Merrill family will retain full ownership of Washingtonian magazine, and Catherine Merrill Williams, Mr. Merrill’s daughter, will become the magazine’s publisher.

“We have valued highly our long relationship with the Merrills,” said Frank Batten Jr., Landmark’s chairman and chief executive officer. “They have been superb partners, and we wish them continued success with the Washingtonian magazine.”

Landmark has been a minority partner of the Capital-Gazette since 1975.

James Brown will remain president and chief executive officer of Capital-Gazette Newspapers, and Mr. Merrill’s widow, Eleanor, will stay on as a consultant.

“Although this decision has been a difficult one for me, I am confident that Landmark will preserve the traditions that have made our newspapers such an integral part of their communities,” Mrs. Merrill said.

The Capital has 47,000 local subscribers, making it the fourth-largest paper in the region behind The Washington Post, the Baltimore Sun, and The Washington Times, respectively.

“This is a good-sized paper for Landmark to pick up; the Capital has their niche, and they serve it well,” said John Murphy, executive director of the Maryland-Delaware-D.C. Press Association in Crofton, Md.

“Readers shouldn’t notice any change in the paper [as a result of the transition] because they are keeping the same management team,” he said.

John Morton, a newspaper industry analyst, agreed that the impact of the transition should be minimal.

“Landmark has a solid reputation, and you will see no diminishment in quality as a result of the change in ownership,” said Mr. Morton, president of Morton Research Inc. in Silver Spring.

“The biggest change came in the absence of Phil. It will be hard for anyone to replicate the passion and energy of Phillip Merrill,” he said.

Mr. Merrill, a Baltimore native, bought the Capital Gazette Press Inc. for $2.5 million in 1968.

During his tenure, Mr. Merrill expanded the company’s reach by purchasing a number of local weekly papers and Washingtonian magazine.

Mr. Merrill served as assistant secretary-general for NATO in Brussels from 1990 to 1992 and chairman-president of the Export-Import Bank of the U.S. in 2002.

In June, Mr. Merrill committed suicide while sailing in the Chesapeake Bay.

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