Former Baltimore County Executive Theodore Venetoulis has purchased the Bowie Register and Crofton Register, adding the sister publications to a growing network of small, troubled weeklies and biweeklies heowns in the Washington area.
Venetoulis began reorganizing the papers "away from the breaking news format" on Friday, laying off the papers' entire news staff and leaving only the sports editor, the ad director and the marketing director to restart operations.
He said the free weekly papers, with a circulation of approximately 25,000, will become bimonthly Feb. 7.
"They allegedly had a focus on breaking news -- tell me how you can do that with a weekly paper. If we try to be the Baltimore Sun or the (Annapolis) Capital in their marketplace, we're not going to succeed," Venetoulis explained.
He promised to publish "various features and nitty-gritty local news and profile pieces a la Putuxent (Publishing Co.)."
Venetoulis helped develop several of the Baltimore-area suburban weeklies now owned by Zeke Orlinsky of Patuxent, including Jeffersonian, Towson Times, Owings Mills Times and Baltimore Messenger.
The Sun has reportedthat Venetoulis sold the Times group for $6 million. He also was reported selling San Francisco magazine, which he purchased in 1986 for $250,000, for $2 million.
Venetoulis characterized The Register as"a purchase of assets, including computers and the name." He said the old owners, DCI and Gannett Corp., planned to close it before they called him early last week.
Staff members were stunned by the speed and scope of the layoffs. Officers of the new company packed away the newsroom's computers in boxes stuffed with back issues of the paper from the library.
"Now I know how Kuwait felt. They chased most of us out and kept some of us hostage," one employee said after the layoffs, which began while the paper's editor was out to lunch on Friday.
William Castronuovo, who founded the papers last March with the backing of four developers, called Venetoulis' layoffs and plans torevamp the papers as "penny-wise and pound-foolish."
"There was definite evidence of a strong comeback with their format if they'd given it time. The staff was wonderful," he said.
Castronuovo, who last week started up The Guide -- a Beltsville-area monthly -- sold TheRegister in October for a profit to DCI publishing and a partner.
The Washington Post has identified the partner as Gannett Co. Inc., publishers of USA Today.
Venetoulis' Record Publishing company hasbeen involved in a flurry of distress acquisitions lately, buying the Wheaton/Kensington News early last week and assuming control of Frederick's The New Paper. He also owns part or all of Washington, D.C.'s K Street Etc, the Burtonsville Record/Gazette and two Silver Springpapers, The Silver Spring Record and Business Record.
Venetoulis said he plans to keep the troubled papers alive through the recessionuntil the next building and economic boom, when they will be established and in a position to grow again.
"That's a wonderful theory anyway," he said.