Two weeks ago, I was in Walt Disney World, just exiting the exciting Star Wars attraction, when I noticed someone had called my iPhone and left voicemail.
I leaned against a wall in the warm midday Florida sun and found that John Bitzer III, the chief executive officer of Abarta Inc., our Pittsburgh-based parent company, was trying to reach me. When I connected with John, I learned Abarta had made a strategic decision to sell The Press of Atlantic City after 60 years of ownership.
Our publisher, Keith Dawn, had been replaced that morning with a former publisher, James W. Hopson, who would prepare The Press for the sale and work with the newspaper brokers on finding a buyer.
The Star Wars ride was rather shocking, but nothing compared to the shock of this news, which was completely unexpected.
Like anyone else, I began to think the worst. When I called and talked to a couple of editors here in Pleasantville, they also were thinking the worst. And I'm sure fellow employees, readers and others were also alarmed.
Since then, there has been time for clearer thinking.
Yes, Abarta executives believe they need higher-growth assets than The Press. If you've read anything about the media business, you know that newspapers, radio stations and TV outlets have been buffeted by both structural changes in how people get their news and by the economic doldrums that have continued from the last recession.
As Bitzer told our reporter at the time of the sale announcement: "Stand-alone daily newspapers in medium-sized markets, while still very profitable, now have constraints that are easier for other potential owners to eliminate than they are for us as a family holding company."
Hopson, our new publisher who has worked with other newspapers that were being sold, made it clear in meetings with employees over the past two weeks that new owners would relish their new investment and want it to thrive.
In the unlikely event that no buyers emerge, Abarta has no plans to shut down The Press, Hopson has told employees and advertisers.
Probably the best assurances come from our employees.
One of our reporters dropped by last week to chat, and we got on the subject of the sale.
She told me a contact in the community said: "I'm so sorry. I heard about the paper. You doing OK?" The reporter responded cheerfully that we're making a profit, there's no problem with debt and that it was our owner's decision to simply find new owners.
Such optimism is great to hear.
We know a goal leading up to the sale will be to make sure the company is operating as efficiently and effectively as possible. We know that there is much we don't know - such uncertainties are natural in these situations (will the buyers be a newspaper group, a private equity firm, local buyers?).
What we also know is that the journalists at The Press have an unwavering, continuing commitment to provide you with solid local news in print and digitally. And we expect our new owners will be just as supportive of that commitment as Abarta has been all these years.
Neill Borowski is executive editor and content director of The Press of Atlantic City and PressofAtlanticCity.com.