A group of fired Washington Times executives, led by the paper's founder and Unification Church patriarch, the Rev. Sun Myung Moon, has bought the 28-year-old conservative newspaper back from Moon's eldest son for $1, saving it from a shutdown, the new owners announced Tuesday.
Moon and his lieutenants - former president and publisher Thomas McDevitt, chairman Douglas M. Joo and finance chief Keith Cooperrider, all of whom were fired by the founder's oldest living son, Preston Moon, after he took control of the Times four years ago - will also assume the paper's millions of dollars in debt and liabilities.
Times editors said the new owners intend to restore local and sports coverage, which had been virtually eliminated in cost-cutting moves in recent years. Circulation, last reported to the Audit Bureau of Circulations in 2008 as 87,000 on weekdays, has plummeted by nearly half, according to Times executives, and more than half the newsroom has been laid off during the son's control of the paper.
Four years ago, Moon, known in church circles as "True Father," gave control of the Times to Preston, but the son grew estranged from his parents and brothers, who then cut off the paper's annual $35 million subsidy in church funds, according to Times sources and church memos.
The returning executives spoke to the paper's remaining 128 employees but did not say whether they will retain the executive editor, Sam Dealey. Other editors, who spoke anonymously for fear of reprisal, said it was unclear whether the plan to rejuvenate metro and sports coverage would restore full sections for those subjects.
Dealey declined to comment.
"That's the big question, what's going to happen to Sam?" a Times editor said. "He's been upbeat today."
Church spokesmen, members of the Times board, and McDevitt, Joo and Cooperrider all did not respond to requests for comment.
Tom Carter, a Times editor and reporter for 25 years who left in 2008, said the paper needs a new editor. "The most important thing that they can do is bring back credibility to the newsroom," Carter said. "To do that, they need to bring back John Solomon."
Solomon, a former Washington Post reporter, resigned as the Times' executive editor in 2009. In an interview, Solomon, now the chief digital officer at the nonprofit Center for Public Integrity in the District, said he is not interested in returning to his old newsroom. "I am really happy here," he said. "I wish the Times well."
A senior Times official said the subsidies that sustained the paper for so many years will likely be reduced. "The old days when the money was gushing in?" the source said. "Those days are long gone."
The deal's completion marks the end of a tense two months of brinksmanship in which sources said Preston Moon came close to closing the paper. "Today, a cloud was being lifted," said another Times editor. "There's been no champagne spraying around here, but people are happy in a relieved kind of way."