Washington City Paper Gets New Owners
Staff writer Frank Ahrens filed this report for tomorrow's paper:
The Washington City Paper has been sold to a Tampa-based group of alternative weeklies.
Creative Loafing Inc, which owns newspapers in Tampa, Atlanta, Charlotte and Sarasota, Fla., and bills itself as "shelter from the mainstream," bought the City Paper and its sister publication, the Chicago Reader, for an undisclosed amount.
The seller, Chicago Reader Inc, will continue to own stakes in the Amsterdam Weekly in the Netherlands, the Portland (Ore.) Mercury and the Stranger, the Seattle weekly that is home to syndicated sex columnist Dan Savage. The company also owns the Adams Morgan building that houses the City Paper.
The new owners of the City Paper said they do not intend to change the paper's name or make radical alterations to the product. Ben Eason, Creative Loafing chief executive, said yesterday that he asked City Paper editor Eric Wemple and publisher Amy Austin to remain, and both agreed.
Bob Roth, who co-founded the Chicago Reader in 1971 as an "extracurricular project" when he was a Ph.D. candidate at the University of Chicago, said Eason contacted him five months ago and eventually made an offer for the two papers. Eason said it is an eight-figure sale and that he tried to buy the stakes in the other papers, too, but Roth would not sell.
City Paper budget cuts that had already begun will continue, Wemple said, though he's not sure where they will come from. "There's no fat in our newsroom that I can identify and so this is difficult process," Wemple said. "I refuse to pay freelancers less money and so we'll have to get terribly, terribly creative."
Eason said cuts could come from City Paper's production staff; all Creative Loafing papers are produced and printed in Atlanta and shipped to their cities to save money.
More than mainstream daily newspapers, alt-weeklies depend on revenue from classifieds, which have been raided by Craigslist. Further, Washington's recent raft of free newspapers -- Express, owned by The Washington Post Co., the Examiner and now the Onion -- all compete for ad dollars that once were nearly exclusive property of the City Paper. The City Paper remains profitable, but its margins have shrunk.
"Clearly, alternatives took the first hit on Craigslist," Eason said. "The Chicago Reader was the strongest classifieds publication in the country and it has taken more of its fair share of hits on that."
With six papers, now, Creative Loafing will trail Village Voice Media, the nation's largest chain of alt-weeklies, which has 17, including the storied Voice.
In May 2006, Wemple was named the new editor of the Voice. But he clashed with management and quit the job before he started, and stayed at the City Paper. Yesterday, Wemple said he has no regrets for not sticking with the Village Voice job.
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