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The Fayetteville Observer, North Carolina’s oldest, ends 93 years of family ownership

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GateHouse Media has bought The Fayetteville (N.C.) Observer and its related businesses, ending 93 years of local ownership by the family of the late Ashton Wilson Lilly. 

Announcing the sale to staff members, Charles Broadwell, president of Fayetteville Publishing Co. and publisher of  The Observer and a fourth-generation member of the ownership family, called it a difficult decision taken after extensive discussions over the past year among the family and board members. 

“It’s a good strategic fit,” Broadwell said. “There’s a lot of emotion and local pride involved, but our company aligns well with other GateHouse properties.”

The Observer, which is marking its 200th anniversary this year as North Carolina’s oldest newspaper, had been the largest independently owned newspaper in North Carolina and one of the largest remaining in the South. 

No terms were disclosed. Fayetteville Publishing was represented by Gary Greene, Managing Director of Cribb, Greene & Cope, a newspaper brokerage, appraisal, and consulting firm with offices in Virginia, Montana, and Missouri.

The sale includes the company’s printing division, Target Printing & Distribution; its digital business, including the fayobserver.com website and Liberty Point Media digital agency; the Iwanna classified advertising publications and related businesses based in Asheville and in Greenville, S.C.; other publications including The Sandspur, Acento Latino and Fort Bragg Life; and the company’s military publishing division serving the Fort Bragg and Camp Lejeune markets.

In a memo to Fayetteville Publishing employees, GateHouse CEO Kirk Davis wrote, “First, we are grateful and honored that the extended Lilly family felt comfortable transitioning ownership of its publications and affiliated businesses to GateHouse. We recognize The Fayetteville Observer’s distinction as the oldest newspaper still being published in North Carolina. And, we value The Observer’s heritage of delivering rich local content to the Fayetteville metropolitan area, including Fort Bragg, and look forward to continuing this tradition.”