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City Paper Sale: The Real Story

When the sale of the Washington City Paper was announced last month, it appeared that the former owners, the folks who controlled the Chicago Reader weekly, were simply falling victim to Craigslist and the resulting decline of paid print classified advertising.

Add the flurry of new free print papers in the Washington area, and it seemed logical enough that an owner might decide to get out of the print weekly business.

But now comes word from the Chicago Reader that there was more going on with this sale than first met the eye. Reader editor Michael Miner reports that "the owners who spoke for the Reader were being sued by a founder they'd stripped of operational authority some 20 years earlier." That founder, Tom Rehwaldt, accused his former partners of scheming to sell the Reader and City Paper, as well as the company's other holdings, in an inside, sweetheart deal rather than trying to get a better return from another party. And Rehwaldt had another party in mind--New Times, the country's largest owner of alternative weeklies.

The Reader story provides a little insight into the troubled state of alternative weeklies in the age of the Internet, and specifically into the City Paper's bottom line: "the Reader's net income, 'typically approximately 30% of revenues' in the late 80s, had declined to a small operating loss in 2006, while profits of the Washington Free Weekly, Inc., which published the Washington City Paper and was controlled by the same officers and investors, dropped from about 15 percent of revenues to 6.7 percent. (Because classified revenues were never as important to City Paper as they were to the Reader, the Washington paper was less affected by the free classifieds introduced by Craigslist.)"

The other owners of the Reader vehemently disagree with their ex-partner's version of reality and say that while they were talking to various companies about selling the papers, they would never have sought a deal that would bring in a smaller return and especially not simply to spite Rehwaldt, as his lawsuit contends.

As it turns out, the papers were sold to a Tampa company called Creative Loafing, which says it will trim expenses and maintain the current editorial leadership of City Paper. Rehwaldt, meanwhile, got his cut of the sale and went away.

By Marc Fisher |  August 27, 2007; 2:24 PM ET
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Comments

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I was disappointed to read this line:

"As it turns out, the papers were sold to a Tampa company called Creative Loafing, which says it will trim expenses and maintain the current editorial leadership of City Paper."

They really need to get rid of Erik Wemple as editor. Under his reign, the CP has become a sloppily edited, almost unreadable publication. The cover stories are either lazy (countless photo montages or cartoons), utterly boring or petty and vindictive (don't get on Wemple's bad side, as he dispatchs one of his reporters to do a one-sided hit piece on you--or writes it himself). The arts reviews go on and on without ever making a point, and seem to serve more as a display of the reviewers inflated self-worth.

It's time for a change.

Posted by: Downtown | August 27, 2007 5:42 PM

Best City Paper feature in years: those staples. Keep those, no matter who owns or edits CP.

Posted by: Mike Licht | August 28, 2007 6:39 AM

Creative Loafing is garbage. After loving the CP and then reading IndyWeek in Raleigh, when I got here I couldn't believe it. It's like they hired a bunch of barely literate college students to write about themselves.

I bid thee farewell City Paper!

Posted by: tampadave | August 28, 2007 7:49 AM

tampadave,
I strongly disagree with your statements. The barely literate college students work for WaPo. The City Paper was produced by barely literate high school students.

Posted by: joe | August 28, 2007 9:47 AM

I agree with Tampadave--CL is terrible. We have it here in Atlanta, and it's no CP.

Posted by: Brian | August 30, 2007 1:56 PM

I've always liked the local content mix CP offers, and I'll continue to read it every week if the new owners don't substitute too much generic national stuff for local columns like City Desk, Show and Tell, Young and Hungry, etc&etc. And, while I like a good national cover story now and then, CP needs to remain overwhelmingly focused on local things.

And commenter #1, enough with the petty grudges against Wemple.

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Posted by: sandra | December 21, 2007 9:15 AM

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