Current Newspapers, the publisher of five weekly community papers around Northwest DC, filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy on Wednesday, according to court records. The company owes more than $1.25 million to nearly three dozen creditors, including lenders, printers, software vendors, and many contributors.
The bankruptcy filing, which was first reported by the Wall Street Journal, comes after a difficult stretch for the 50-year-old company, whose struggling finances have led it to withhold paychecks, let a health-insurance policy lapse, and delay paying its vendors for more than the past year. There’s also been a near-complete turnover in the editorial staff, which will now be led by former Prince George’s Sentinel managing editor Shawn McFarland; Chris Kain, the Current’s managing editor for the previous 26 years, resigned last month.
Current Newspapers did not respond to requests for comment about its next steps. The paper has been on hiatus from publishing since December 20, and plans to resume next Thursday.
The filing includes the six-figure sums the Current is being sued over by two former printers—Gannett and Bartash Print Media—as well as $60,000 owed to a third printer, APG of Chesapeake, located in Easton, Maryland. Contributing writers and photographers, including former WRC reporter Tom Sherwood, who’s written a column for the Current for 20 years, are owed about $26,000.
On Thursday, judge in DC Superior Court ruled that the Current is in default to Gannett, to which it owes $180,000. A similar ruling in favor of Bartash, which is based in Philadelphia, was issued last August. Davis Kennedy, the Current’s owner since 1994, told Washingtonian earlier this week he believes the Gannett suit can be settled. “I think we can work something out,” he said.
Current Newspapers decided to file for bankruptcy last month, citing production expenses, according to court records. The company’s advertising revenue has been sliding since 2015, when the Washington Post‘s closure of the Gazette papers in suburban Maryland triggered the collapse of a regional advertising network made up of small, community-focused papers around the DC area, including the Current.
“Due to an interruption in cash flow resulting from outside printing costs, the Company needs to reorganize its business operations and finances in order to continue to serve its constituents with the same quality they have come to expect over the past number of years,” reads a company resolution signed by Kennedy December 15.
The document goes on to state that the Current plans to restructure its business operations rather than liquidate. (It listed less than $50,000 in assets in its bankruptcy filing.)
David Ferrara, Current Newspapers’ chief operating officer, told Washingtonian this week the company is in a transition, one that may include the company’s first sustained attempts at reader revenue, such as paid home delivery or a paywall on its young website. Ferrara says the longterm plan also includes him eventually taking majority ownership of the company.
This story has been updated.