Updated at 2:40 p.m. — The Gazette, the locally focused newspaper that’s had a presence in Montgomery County for almost 60 years, will cease publication next week.
The company that owns the paper alerted Montgomery County officials to the closure in a letter required by law because it will mean shutting down the paper’s Gaithersburg headquarters, according to Washington Post reporter Bill Turque.
The announcement was made in an all-staff meeting held Friday at the paper’s Montgomery County office in Gaithersburg, according to sources. The letter says the closure will mean the elimination of 69 jobs, including 12 reporters and two photographers.
A spokesperson for The Washington Post provided a copy of the email sent to employees Friday.
Ken Sain, the paper’s sports editor, tweeted that next week’s edition will be the paper’s last. A company official told employees at the Friday meeting that they’ll be paid through mid-August and could be eligible for severance pay.
The free weekly paper, which was sold to The Washington Post Co. in 1992 and included in the 2013 sale of The Washington Post to Amazon.com CEO Jeff Bezos, has suffered through financial troubles for much of the last decade.
The company that runs the paper, Post Community Media LLC, shut down the Frederick County edition of The Gazette in May 2013 and the operations in Montgomery and Prince George’s counties have gone through at least three rounds of layoffs since 2011. The Prince George’s County paper will also close.
In 2013, The Gazette cut back on its coverage of the Statehouse in Annapolis for its Gazette of Politics and Business, a weekly paid publication.
Karen Acton, who took over as CEO of Post Community Media in 2012, left the position in April. Sources said the company never sought out a new CEO, deciding instead to leave management of the day-to-day operations to Corporate Advertising Director Dennis Wilston and Corporate Controller Mike McIntyre.
The Post Community Media group, a property of Bezos’ Nash Holdings, also includes the Fairfax County Times, Southern Maryland Newspapers, Comprint Military Publications and a commercial printing division based in its Laurel offices.
The Gazette’s demise will leave a major hole when it comes to local news coverage in Montgomery County. The broadsheet newspaper featured editions tailored to different areas in the county that were delivered for free to homes on Tuesdays and Wednesdays.
It covered county government, schools, community events, civic issues and local high school sports, among other topics.
“The closing of The Gazette newspapers in Montgomery County is sad news,” County Executive Ike Leggett said in a statement. “The Gazette has long been an influential asset to our county communities and a vital source of information. My heart goes out to Gazette employees affected by this closing.”
The paper started in 1959 as the twice-a-month Gaithersburg Gazette, a tabloid that founder Earle Hightower distributed to “as many houses as we could find,” according to a history of the paper published in 2011 by The Gazette.
It grew into multiple editions focused on other communities, including Rockville, Potomac, Poolesville and Damascus.
Davis L. Kennedy, who bought the paper in 1979, bought competing local papers in Olney and Mount Airy and from 1982 to 1988 created distinct Gazette editions in Rockville, Germantown, Bethesda and Chevy Chase, according to the paper’s history.
He also made the paper free. Until then, it had been distributed at 10 cents per copy.
In 1992, Kennedy sold an 80-percent stake in the paper to The Washington Post Co. and its CEO Donald Graham for an undisclosed sum.
“There were a lot of weekly free newspapers in Montgomery County at the time. The Gazette just owned Gaithersburg with what anybody would call very difficult competition,” Graham said in 2009, in a video interview produced by The Gazette in honor of the paper’s 50th anniversary.
“A real bad recession had hit Washington in 1989 and it affected primarily real estate, banking and retail. The Gazette’s business results suffered,” Graham said. “We knew The Gazettes were well-run and we knew the recession would end and when it ended, were pretty sure The Gazettes would come back and be a very strong business.”
The sale gave Kennedy the cash needed to buy out The Record newspapers, which allowed The Gazette to expand to Silver Spring and Burtonsville.
In 1993, the Post bought out the rest of Kennedy’s stake and hired former newspaper editor Chuck Lyons to serve as its publisher.
In 1994, the company launched The Gazette of Politics and Business. It launched the Frederick County edition in 1996 and the Prince George’s County edition in 1997.
By 2011, the paper boasted a circulation of about 550,000 in Montgomery, Prince George’s and Frederick counties.
“For the moment, nobody does what we do. Nobody covers these communities,” Lyons said in 2011. “If we went away tomorrow, there’d be a heck of a lot of news go away. If The New York Times stopped covering Washington, D.C., tomorrow, there’d be other people to cover Washington, D.C.”