Alain Lillie, owner of South Charlotte Weekly and the Carolina Weekly Newspaper Group, will soon sell the four newspapers in the company’s northern division to Craig Moon, former president and publisher of USA Today.
At a meeting with his staff Wednesday, Lillie announced the pending sale of the Herald Weekly, Mooresville Weekly, Denver Weekly and Mountain Island Monitor. The sale is expected to be finalized by the end of the year.
Moon and Lillie did not announce financial details of the sale of what many know as the “Lake papers.”
Lillie will retain ownership of the three papers in the group’s southern division: South Charlotte Weekly, Matthews-Mint Hill Weekly and Union County Weekly. Lillie believes in the model he’s established and looks forward to watching the publications continue to improve, he said.
“We didn’t have a weak link in our group of seven,” he said. “It’s just that south Charlotte is where I started this company a decade ago, where I live and where community news is relevant to me.”
Lillie said he is pleased with the sale and confident in the growth of his three remaining papers.
“First and foremost, I wanted to spend more time with my family,” Lillie said in an email commenting on the sale. Lillie, his wife and their two daughters live in the Piper Glen neighborhood of south Charlotte.
The sale will not affect the distribution, circulation or staffing of his southern papers, Lillie said. Circulation is increasing for Union County Weekly, and the company has recently hired a fifth sales representative for the division, he said.
The two companies will share select services, including full-run advertising content, the graphics department and movie reviews.
Changes “aren’t for me to decide,” Lillie said. “Any changes to our newspapers come from our readers.”
Craig Moon, who retired from the nation’s highest-circulation daily newspaper in 2009, said he chose to purchase the four papers because of their reputation, the area’s rapid growth and options for expansion.
“I really believe in the (newspaper) business, and I believe that if you have the right business model and you really position the products correctly, there is an important place for print in the digital, online world,” he said this week. “I believe these community weekly newspapers are set up to bring that relevance to readers and advertisers.”
After retiring from USA Today, Moon said he considered investment opportunities across the country but felt the Lake Norman area provided the best circumstances.
Lillie opened South Charlotte Weekly in May 2002 and subsequently launched the Union County and Matthews-Mint Hill papers.
Lillie purchased the Herald Weekly and Mountain Island Monitor in 2008, opening up the Mooresville Weekly in 2010 and Denver Weekly a year later.
Moon brings with him Don Stinson, former senior vice president of marketing and advertising for Gannett Company, USA Today’s parent company. Stinson will serve as general manager for the four north Mecklenburg papers and handle strategic planning.
Going forward, Moon envisions continuing to provide relevant content for readers and advertisers. But he expects to grow from the newspaper chain’s current model.
“We’ve had some ideas on other publications I think we would like to launch in the Charlotte market and Lake Norman market and view these publications we have now as the basis for the business,” he said.
Lillie said he plans on maintaining a close partnership with Moon when it comes to the expansion of newspapers in the region. He did not speculate on where any such papers would be, though noted “other growth plans are” being considered.
“I have a few things in the works,” Lillie added. “It’s very humbling when leaders from nearby towns call to convince me to start a newspaper in their community.”
Moon began working in newspapers while attending the University of South Florida nearly 40 years ago. He began his career as a part-time distribution employee at the St. Petersburg Times in Florida.
Moon has served as an executive vice president of Gannett’s Newspaper division and held a number of managerial roles in distribution and advertising. From 1991 to 2001, he served as the publisher of The Tennessean newspaper in Nashville, Tenn., before being tapped to be executive vice president of Gannett Newspapers, eventually taking over USA Today and its many subsidiaries in 2003.
A western New York State native, Moon and his wife currently live in Nashville and are working with a local realtor to purchase a home in the Lake Norman area. The couple has five adult children and three grandchildren.