BEND — The Bend Bulletin’s parent company filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection Tuesday.
Western Communications owns seven newspapers across the Pacific Northwest, many in rural communities where no one else is delivering local news.
Court filings show the corporation owes about $2 million to private creditors, while recent reporting by OPB revealed the company owes nearly $1 million in back property taxes for its newspapers. Employees have experienced years of layoffs, late paychecks and furloughs.
Now, they’re bracing for another round of cuts.
A report by the Bulletin says its newspaper readers “will see changes in the coming weeks and months,” that will make the paper more economically stable.
Western Communications president John Costa did not immediately respond to emails for further comment about the bankruptcy. OPB interviewed him 11 days before the filing, and he gave no indications of an impending case.
“I can only assure people that we’re working as hard as we can and in good faith to make sure that that the Bulletin goes forward,” Costa told OPB at the time.
The company owns four other newspapers in Oregon: the Curry Coastal Pilot, the Redmond Spokesman, the La Grande Observer, and the Baker City Herald; plus two in California: the Del Norte Triplicate, and the Sonora Union Democrat.
Topping the company’s list of creditors is $946,000 owed to a newspaper cooperative that sells printing and distribution supplies. Western Communications’ top 20 unpaid debts range from that amount, down to $5,500 for a syndication service. Also on the list of unsecured claims: $59,000 for a Bend fireworks show.
Court filings show the company seeks $1.6 million in cash collateral to keep the newspapers running without harming the company’s value. A hearing is set for Jan. 24. The company paid its attorney a $100,000 retainer Jan. 14.
In a statement published Tuesday, Western Communications Chairwoman Betsy McCool wrote of the bankruptcy filing: “This is the only way we can preserve our creditors’ investments and our owners’ interests in valuable community assets.”
This is the second time in the past decade the company has filed for bankruptcy protection. It last emerged from Chapter 11 proceedings in 2012. Under Chapter 11, the company will argue its finances can be reorganized to be profitable again, despite the present situation.