City Paper's Erik Wemple to edit local news Web site

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By Paul Farhi
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Erik Wemple, editor of the weekly Washington City Paper, will take over editorial operations next month for the yet-unnamed local news Web site owned by Allbritton Communications.

The company on Tuesday named the veteran local journalist -- and longtime critic of The Washington Post -- as the top editor of the online operation, which will cover local news, sports and entertainment.

The venture has been closely watched by journalists because it comes from the same company that launched Politico.com, the all-politics Web site and publication, in early 2007. Arlington-based Allbritton also owns WJLA (Channel 7) in Washington and local cable operation Newschannel 8.

Wemple, 45, has been the editor of City Paper since 2002 and, before that, was a writer and local columnist for the publication. He was named editor of the Village Voice in 2006, but pulled out and stayed at City Paper.

City Paper has struggled amid the recession and has cut its editorial staff in half since 2007. Its owner, Atalaya Capital Management, acquired the paper last year following the bankruptcy of its previous owner, Creative Loafing. Atalaya hasn't named Wemple's successor.

In an interview Thursday, Wemple said he hopes to launch the new site this spring with roughly 15 to 18 reporters, including a few "signature voices." Although hiring and other details are yet to be determined, Wemple said the site will attempt to incorporate work from Politico and Allbritton's two local TV operations. "We're hoping to really carve some new ground as to how a TV and Web operation can mutually reinforce themselves," he said.

In his City Paper column, Wemple often criticized The Post and its online operations. The Post's news site was headed by Jim Brady, who will be Wemple's boss at Allbritton.

Wemple also had raised questions about the viability of Allbritton's local Web site, which he sarcastically referred to as "PostKiller.com." In an October column, he wrote that he doubted whether such an operation could be profitable, given that few online news sites have made money.

"There's one part of the whole deal that strains credulity, and that's the part about actually making money off of news on the Web," he wrote, citing "loads of staffing, no philanthropic funding, no paper edition and a complete reliance on Web-generated revenues."

As an example, he cited City Paper's unsuccessful attempt to generate profits online. "So if [Allbritton] somehow managed to come in and commandeer 100 percent of [City Paper's] Web ad revenue, well, it could use the proceeds for a group lunch at the Baja Fresh outside of the Allbritton offices."

Wemple said Tuesday that creating a profitable site will be "a huge challenge. . . . I would just say that nobody [at Allbritton] has the ultimate model. We're all sort of grasping and groping for a model that will work at this stage. But I like the energy and the resources that the company is investing" in the venture.


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