Unification Church Puts Washington Times Up For Sale
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UNIFICATION CHURCH WILL PUT WASHINGTON TIMES UP FOR SALE
By Ian Shapira
Saturday, May 1, 2010
Washington Times executives are negotiating to sell the newspaper, after the
Rev. Sun Myung Moon's family cut off most of the annual subsidy of about $35
million that has kept the Unification Church-backed paper afloat, company
Nicholas Chiaia, a member of the paper's two-man board of directors and
president of the church-supported United Press International wire service,
confirmed that the paper is actively on the market: "We recently entered
into discussions with a number of parties interested in either purchasing or
partnering with the Washington Times," he said in a statement to The
Current and former Times officials said one suitor has been the paper's
former executive editor, John Solomon, who resigned in November 2009. Soon
thereafter, they said, Solomon organized a group of investors to purchase
the Times or launch a new multimedia outlet called The Washington Guardian.
Times company officials said they are also in discussions with other
Solomon, a former Washington Post reporter, declined to comment.
The negotiations follow months of turmoil at both the 28-year-old
conservative daily and the business empire founded by Moon, 90, whose
children are jostling for control over the church's myriad enterprises,
which range from fisheries to arms manufacturing.
One of Moon's children, Justin Moon, who was chosen by his father to run
many of the church's Asian businesses, has slashed the newspaper's annual
subsidy, forcing the paper's executives, led by Moon's eldest son, Preston
Moon, to search for deep pockets elsewhere. Meanwhile, the newspaper has
hacked its newsroom staff by more than half, from 225 in 2002 down to about
70 people, raised the paper's price and deliberately shrunk its circulation
to cut costs, shed its metro and sports sections, and fired or pushed out
several top executives, including its publisher earlier this week. Several
reporters said most of the staffers are seeking to leave.
The finances are so tight that the newspaper hasn't paid some of its bills
or tended to basic maintenance issues -- such as hiring an exterminator to
deal with mice and snakes sneaking into the building on New York Avenue in
"The feeling everyone feels is that it's a totally rudderless ship," said
Julia Duin, the paper's longtime religion reporter. "Nobody knows who's
running it. Is it the board of directors? We don't know. There was a
three-foot-long black snake in the main conference room the other day. We
have snakes in the newsroom -- the real live variety, at least. One of the
security people gallantly removed it."
Times editor Sam Dealey declined comment. Chiaia said he could not be
interviewed until next week. (The paper's other director, Richard Wojcik,
did not return a call.) In a written statement, Chiaia said the effort to
sell the Times is "part of a strategic effort to ensure that the newspaper
remains sustainable." He argued that the paper's struggles are no different
from those of other news organizations and the Times "has improved its
bottom line, compared to its position in November 2009, by around 50
The paper, however, has been struggling to pay off millions of dollars in
debt, according to current and former Times executives who asked not to be
named because they feared lawsuits or retaliation from their bosses.
The Times' circulation is also unclear. The paper stopped reporting to the
Audit Bureau of Circulation in 2008, when the paper had circulation of
86,710 copies on weekdays and 37,259 on Sundays. (Chiaia said the Times, now
published only on weekdays, has a circulation of 50,000, but Times
executives said it's about 42,000, with fewer than 25,000 home subscribers.)
Justin Moon's move last July to slash the family's subsidy to the Times --
Rev. Moon has pumped about $2 billion into the paper since its founding in
1982, according to current and former employees -- occurred as part of a
feud among the church founder's children. Last year, Preston and his younger
brother Sean Moon issued memos claiming power over various portions of their
father's global business empire.
Sapped of its major funding, Preston Moon last year ordered Times
executives, led by then-president and publisher Thomas McDevitt, to make
massive cuts. In November, McDevitt and two other executives were ousted.
McDevitt declined to comment.
Since leaving the Times, Solomon, who helps produce Energy Guardian, a news
service that reports on environmental and energy issues, has sought to buy
the Times or start his own paper, according to Times officials.
Solomon tried to team with McDevitt and a group of investors to buy the
Times, according to a senior-level Times official. But that group collapsed.
Solomon found another group of investors and approached the Times late last
year about buying the paper, a senior Times official said. The offer was
rejected as insufficient; Preston Moon told associates he would likely
accept a bid between $10 million and $15 million, the official said. A
Unification Church spokesman did not respond to a request for comment.
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