Augusta, Georgia-based Morris Publishing Group today said it has hired investment banking firm Lazard Freres & Co. as financial advisor and Neal, Gerber & Eisenberg as legal counsel as the publisher explores strategic options.

“These firms will assist us in evaluating our strategic options regarding Morris Publishing’s existing capital structure,” chairman William S. Morris said in a statement.

According to its 10-Q document, filed November 14 with the Securities and Exchange Commission, Morris Publishing said it will be “unlikely to meet the financial covenants” by the second quarter of 2009. The company indicated it could look to refinance existing bank debt or seek an amendment of the terms of its credit agreement.

Through the first nine months of 2008, Morris reported a $156.6 million loss from continuing operations, compared to a $8.7 million profit during the same period in 2007. The results included a goodwill impairment charge of $170.7 million.

Morris had $424 million in outstanding debt, the company said.

Advertising revenue in the third quarter was down 19 percent and circulation revenue was down 3.1 percent. Revenue in its retail (-12 percent), national (-7.5) and classified (-28.7) advertising categories were also down.

In addition to 13 daily newspapers, Morris—an affiliate of the Morris Communications Company—publishes several city magazines including Augusta, Athens, H magazine and Savannah.