Ex-USA Today publisher buys Monitor

by Josh Lanier

Craig Moon, the former president and publisher of USA Today, purchased the four newspapers in the northern division of Carolina Weekly Newspaper Group.

At a meeting with staff in December, owner Alain Lillie announced the sale of  the Mountain Island Monitor and its sister papers, Mooresville Weekly, Denver Weekly and the Herald Weekly. The sale was finalized at the end of the year.

Moon and Lillie did not announce financial details of the sale of what many know as the “Lake papers.” Moon said his company Newsman, LLC, and the Carolina Weekly Newspaper Group entered into talks in November.

Moon, who retired in 2009 from one of the nation’s highest-circulation daily newspapers, said he chose to purchase the 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 earlier this month. “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 purchased the Herald Weekly and Mountain Island Monitor in 2008, opening up the Mooresville Weekly in 2010 and Denver Weekly a year later. He said he was pleased with the sale and retains ownership of three papers in the group’s southern division: South Charlotte Weekly, Matthews-Mint Hill Weekly and Union County Weekly.

Lillie said while the seven papers remained profitable he decided to sell the northern papers and focus on the other publications where he started the company nearly 10 years ago.

“First and foremost, I wanted to spend more time with my family,” Lillie said in an email. “Also, having Craig and his wife calling Lake Norman home is important for the staff and the continued success of the newspapers. In addition to great newspapers, the community he’ll now call home sealed the deal. Lake Norman’s list of already impressive business owners just gained another one, the former publisher of USA Today.”

The two companies will share select services, including full-run advertising, a graphics department and movie reviews.

“The staff is thrilled to have the opportunity to work for a man of Craig Moon’s caliber,” Herald Publisher Phyllis Rozzelle said in an email to the president of marketing and advertising for Gannett Company, the USA Today’s parent company. Don Stinson will serve as general manager for the papers and handle strategic planning.

“My goal is to make these papers the best editorially I can,” Moon said. “I want to continue to provide relevant content for readers and advertisers, stories that make an impact in their lives.”

But he expects to grow the newspapers’ current holdings.

“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.

After a two-year stint in the U.S. Army, 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 president and publisher of The Tennessean newspaper in Nashville, Tenn. He left to become an executive Vice President at Gannett and was tapped in 2003 to take over USA Today and its many subsidiaries.

A western New York State native, Moon and his wife Patty 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.

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