City Paper Sold to Tampa Alt-Weekly Group

Kenneth Newman handed out the Washington City Paper in 2005. The weekly was sold to Creative Loafing Inc.
Kenneth Newman handed out the Washington City Paper in 2005. The weekly was sold to Creative Loafing Inc. (By Sarah L. Voisin -- The Washington Post)
By Frank Ahrens
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, July 25, 2007

The Washington City Paper has been sold to group of alternative weeklies based in Tampa.

Creative Loafing Inc., which owns newspapers in Atlanta, Charlotte and Sarasota, Fla., in addition to Tampa, 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 as well as the Stranger, the Seattle weekly that is home to syndicated sex columnist Dan Savage. The company also owns the building in Adams Morgan 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's chief executive, said yesterday that he asked City Paper editor Erik 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 already begun will continue, Wemple said, though he said he was 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 to save money.

More than mainstream daily newspapers, alternative 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. It 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, 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 editor of the Voice. But he clashed with management, quit the job before he started and stayed at the City Paper. Yesterday, Wemple said he had no regrets for not sticking with the Village Voice job.

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