Kathleen McLaughlin
The Bulletin

Two Oregon media companies want to buy most of Western Communications’ community newspapers for a combined price of more than $1.1 million, according to motions filed Tuesday in bankruptcy court.

The East Oregonian Co., known as EO Media Group, would pay $775,000 for The Observer in La Grande and the Baker City Herald. Country Media Inc., which owns newspapers on the Oregon Coast and in Montana and North Dakota, would pay $350,000 for the Del Norte Triplicate in Crescent City, California, and the Curry Coastal Pilot in Brookings.

The proposed buyers have requested hearings on June 27 in U.S. Bankruptcy Court in Portland, according to motions filed Tuesday. Closings would occur days after the court orders the sales.

Competing bids may be submitted no later than June 21.

“Both of them are really good fits,” Western Communications Chairwoman Betsy McCool said of the proposed buyers. “I wish them all luck. I’m hoping they’ll serve their community and employees well. I have no doubt that they will.”

Saddled with debt from its Bend headquarters building, Western Communications filed in January for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection. Last month the company filed a reorganization plan that consists of selling all its assets, including The Bulletin, a newspaper that began in 1903 and was previously run by McCool’s late father, Robert Chandler.

The company’s real estate is being marketed separately. Neither Country Media nor EO Media has proposed to buy any of the real estate at this point. Country Media’s purchase of the coastal papers would include the Smith River printing press but not the building that houses it, McCool said.

Representatives of the two potential buyers couldn’t be reached for comment Tuesday morning.

Western Communications’ May disclosure statement estimated that all the newspaper operations, which include The Union Democrat in Sonora, California, and The Redmond Spokesman, which prints weekly, would be worth $5 million to $10 million.

“The numbers came in about where we thought they would,” said Owen Van Essen of the newspaper brokerage Dirks, Van Essen, Murray & April. “They’re factoring in the trends of the business.”

The Triplicate, which has a circulation of 3,500, and Pilot, circulation 4,000, are published Wednesdays and Saturdays. The two newspapers and Smith River printing facility employ 34 people.

The Observer in La Grande, circulation 3,250, and Baker City Herald, circulation 1,900, publish Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays and employ a combined 24 people.

The two Eastern Oregon newspapers are already printed by EO Media Group, which owns the East Oregonian in Pendleton and Hermiston Herald, among other publications.

McCool said she’s not permitted to talk about bids submitted for The Bulletin, The Redmond Spokesman or The Union Democrat until a proposed sale comes before the court.

The company’s total debt is about $30 million, and the sale of real estate in Oregon and California is expected to bring about $20 million, according to the May disclosure.

— Reporter: 541-617-7860, kmclaughlin@bendbulletin.com