Publisher, broadcaster and philanthropist Frank Batten Sr. has died at age 82. He was the founder of Landmark Communications, which still owns newspapers and two TV stations, after selling The Weather Channel to an investor group including NBC Universal.
Although he was born to a wealthy family, Batten began his media career as an errand boy at the largest newspaper in Norfolk, VA and rose to be its publisher. He was all of 27 when he succeeded his uncle in that role.
As head of what became Landmark Communications, Batten not only acquired more newspapers, but expanded into cable television systems and broadcast TV stations. In 1982 he launched what many regarded as a crazy venture – a 24/7 cable channel devoted to weather. Landmark sold The Weather Channel last year for $3.5 billion to NBC Universal and two private equity funds, Bain Capital and The Blackstone Group.
Landmark had also sought bids on its other media properties, including KLAS-TV (CBS) Las Vegas and WTVF-TV (CBS) Nashville, but discontinued sales efforts late last year in the face of the economic recession.
While we in the media world knew Frank Batten for his business ventures – and his long Chairmanship of the Associated Press – he is better known in his native Virginia for his philanthropy. He co-founded the Access College Foundation to acquire college scholarships for students in the Norfolk-Portsmouth area – some 70,000 of them thus far. He created the Landmark Foundations to funnel millions to educational charities and other non-profit organizations. He donated $100 million to the University of Virginia to create the Frank Batten School of Leadership and Policy. And the list went on.
Batten stepped down as Chairman of Landmark in 1998 and his son, Frank Batten Jr., filled the top post. That appeared to free the elder Batten to work even harder at finding ways to give away his billions in ways that would make a real difference. Landmark’s flagship Virginian-Pilot reported that Frank Batten Sr. died Thursday at a retirement center in Norfolk. He was 82.