After 79 years at the helm, Keister family seeks buyer
By Sally Voth -- firstname.lastname@example.org
STRASBURG -- Northern Virginia Daily owners Pat and Dee Keister told staff members Friday they were putting the newspaper his father founded 79 years ago up for sale.
A broker out of Gaitherburg, Md., is assisting in finding a buyer, editor John Horan said during the company-wide meeting. Horan, editor of the Daily since 1977, is the trustee of a trust left by previous publisher Bill Keister, the late, older brother of Pat Keister.
Operations will continue as usual while the paper is for sale, General Manager Elizabeth Smoot said.
"We take this step reluctantly, but the past three years as we have endured the worst recession in 60 years, have been trying and Pat and Dee have reached the age where they are entitled to a respite from the burdens and responsibilities of the Daily," Horan said in a prepared statement. "The sale is not imminent, but we have engaged a newspaper broker, and several newspaper chains have expressed an interest in the paper."
Bill and Pat Keister's father, E.E. Keister, founded the paper during the Great Depression, Horan said. Carolyn Keister Baker, daughter of Pat and Dee Keister, is the paper's credit manager and was a reporter before that.
"The Keister family -- Bill and Pat and Dee -- have furthered the founder's dream," Horan said. "They have provided unstinting financial and moral support and have never meddled in news coverage."
Not many newspapers are owned by a single family that doesn't own a conglomeration of papers, Smoot said. The past four years had been very difficult, she said.
In the past few years, the Daily has endured several rounds of layoffs, left positions unfilled, cut employees' pay and benefits, and in August sold the Woodstock bureau's office. There are 74 employees today.
"This is not a fire sale. This is not a bankruptcy," Smoot told employees. "This is not a closing of this organization that has been around almost 80 years. This is just a new day."
In an interview after the specially called meeting, Horan said the news was sad, but, "I think we all knew it would come to this at some point."
However, shutting the paper has never been an option, he said.
"If we don't find a suitable buyer, we would continue to operate it," Horan said. "I think we would just have to take a sharper eye about the expenses."
Smoot said interested buyers will be interviewed to see what their intentions are. She said it's very important to Horan and the Keisters that the paper's philosophy of editorial independence be maintained and that as many jobs as possible be saved.
Smoot said she was informed by the broker that the trend hasn't been for new owners to come on board, lay off the old staffs and bring in new employees.
"First and foremost, [the Keisters] have you guys at heart and this paper being in this community," she said. "The stress they've taken on trying to save as many jobs as they can has been enormous."
Both Pat and Dee Keister addressed workers during the meeting.
"I do want to thank each and every one of you for making the newspaper what it has become," Pat Keister, 84, said. "We're very proud of it. My dad started out selling subscriptions on a motorcycle."
E.E. Keister started off with a weekly, and then had five weeklies, which he then combined to form The Northern Virginia Daily.
Mrs. Keister, 78, said she thinks of all Daily employees as family.
"And, we love having such a big family," she told staff members. "This has been a journey for us in thinking the last couple of years how do we keep The Northern Virginia Daily, which is such a fine paper, and which serves our community so well ... how do we keep it continuing?
"We want The Northern Virginia Daily to be around for a long, long time. This shouldn't be a sad day. It should be a day of thinking of new beginnings."
The Keisters have lived in the brick two-story home right next door to the Daily for the past 15 years, and plan to continue to do so. It's been in their family ever since it was built 100 years ago, Mrs. Keister, who works in the paper's business office, said after the meeting.
"It's a wonderful thing to go out and pick up the paper every morning and read it," Pat Keister said.