Soho News, a lively Manhattan weekly that focused on art and politics for the past nine years, ended publication yesterday.
Editor-in-chief and publisher John Leese told his staff of 50 full-time employes at a 4 p.m. meeting that the Associated Newspaper Group, a British corporation, had decided "with deep regret" to end further investment in the tabloid, which Leese said lost $1.7 million last year.
Ironically, the paper's circulation almost doubled in the past year. It seemed to have found its own style and viewpoint, after casting about for years as an imitation of The Village Voice. Most recently Soho became eagerly read for its extensive coverage of Susan Sontag's condemnation of communism--a topic that might have been found in the more ponderous New York Review of Books a few years ago. The current and last issue, dated March 10-16, with John Belushi on the cover, had a distribution of about 40,000 copies. The Voice has a current circulation of 151,000.
Associated Newspaper Group--which owns the Daily Mail as well as a fleet of taxicabs in London, and percentages of Esquire and The American Lawyer in this country--bought Soho in 1979 from founder Michael Goldstein. ANG had announced last fall that it was seeking to sell or close the paper by the end of February. The deadline was extended as negotiations continued with potential purchasers, but the British company apparantly decided over the weekend that it could not sustain further financial loses. ANG is reportedly hard pressed for operating capital: It recently merged two of its dailies, which in England requires the payment of substantial funds to workers in lieu of pensions; and next month it will launch a new Sunday newspaper to compete with the Sunday Times--published, ironically, by Rupert Murdoch, owner of The Village Voice.
British management reportedly had not been pleased by unionization of Soho, which began a year ago. After the employes voted in an independent union, British management gave Leese a mandate to sell or close the paper. The revelation of this to the staff damaged morale. "It was like trying to make a piece of wet spaghetti stand up and salute," in the words of one editor. The announcement yesterday was somewhat anti-climactic; if anything the tone of the meeting was bittersweet, the editor said.