Jewish Times will publish next week, then future uncertain

Head of parent company confident sale can be completed in 10 days

March 17, 2012|By Steve Kilar, The Baltimore Sun

The Baltimore Jewish Times, whose parent company's assets were ordered liquidated by a bankruptcy judge Friday, will be in mailboxes and on newsstands at the end of next week, the newspaper's publisher said Saturday.

But unless a new owner takes over the paper by Friday, the niche publication may never again be delivered or available for purchase in stores. Since its launch 93 years ago, the weekly journal has never missed an issue.

"There are 40 people laser-focused on keeping things running for 10 days," said Andrew A. Buerger, the Jewish Times' publisher and the CEO of the paper's parent, Alter Communications. The company would probably not be able to survive much longer than next week without a buyer, he said.

Alter filed for bankruptcy in April 2010, after the company's former printer, H.G. Roebuck & Son Inc., filed a breach-of-contract lawsuit against the publishing house and was awarded a $362,000 judgment.

The two companies have been tangling over Alter's reorganization for the past two years.

On Friday, the deadline for a reorganization plan to be agreed upon, U.S. Bankruptcy Court Judge Nancy V. Alquist decided that a trustee should be assigned to run Alter and sell off its assets.

Roebuck pushed for that outcome, arguing that recent financial losses made continued operations by the current management unrealistic. Alter has lost more than $430,000 in two months, according to court testimony.

Alquist agreed with Roebuck, saying Alter's leaders have been unable to stem losses by reaching an agreement on a reorganization plan.

In December, Alter proposed a reorganization plan that included a $600,000 infusion from an investor group headed by Dr. Scott Rifkin, a Baltimore physician, in exchange for an 80 percent stake. That plan was scrapped after disagreements among Alter's board of directors and shareholders.

In February, Roebuck filed a different reorganization plan, with WJW Group LLC, the publisher of Washington Jewish Week, as the major investor.

WJW pulled out after reviewing Alter's books last weekend. But in a plan proposed Friday by Alter and approved by all of the bankrupt company's board members and shareholders, WJW agreed to purchase Alter's assets for about $400,000, the amount owed to lender Wells Fargo, according to testimony.

In court Friday, WJW Group was said to be prepared to make a formal offer for Alter's assets by Monday and close the deal by Wednesday. The proposal was denied by Alquist, who said three business days was not sufficient time to complete the sale.

Still, Buerger is confident the paper's sale can be arranged in a week. He said he planned to meet with the trustee Saturday evening. Baltimore-based attorney Zvi Guttman is in charge of the asset sale.

Washington Jewish Week publisher WJW Group LLC and Dr. Scott Rifkin remain the two known bidders for Jewish Times, Buerger said.

"I feel really confident with both potential buyers," said Buerger. "They both have a vested interest in Jewish journalism."

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