After an unsuccessful bid to find new investors, The Washington Weekly has suspended publication just two weeks after celebrating its first anniversary.
"Who knows if we'll start up again? Right now we're not publishing and it looks definite. For now, anyway," said publisher Joan Bingham. "I still think The Washington Weekly is a great idea and if we don't work it out, someone else will. But I don't have any money left to put into it."
The Weekly, which was intended to appeal to young professionals, began a year ago with an investment of $1.25 million, mainly from Bingham, New Republic publisher Martin Peretz and Boston real estate and publishing magnate Mortimer Zuckerman. Bingham, who has a majority interest in The Weekly, said circulation began with 18,000 paid subscribers, and that the number rose by only 3,000. Issues were also given away on local college campuses.
Bingham said if the paper shuts down permanently, losses will total close to $1.5 million.
Said Peretz, "We're still looking for an additional investor. I hope it's sooner than later." The paper's organizers have always believed that the Washington area's demographics would support the publication.
Bingham and her associates tried to interest numerous supporters including The Toronto Sun, the Gannett newspaper chain, the Swedish owners of Washington Dossier magazine and Wall Street financier Ivan Boesky. Peretz, Bingham said, is talking to potential investors in Houston.
"The timing was bad with all of them," said Bingham, a wealthy stockholder in The Louisville Courier-Journal & Times Co. "We just never found anyone with pockets deep enough to keep us going. We decided to stop now, instead of two or three months from now because we wanted to have enough money left to pay our creditors."
Other weekly papers in the area have experienced similar difficulties. A special problem for The Weekly, which cost 50 cents, was competing for readers in a city of giveaway publications.
"It's hard for me to believe that there isn't a market for a yuppie alternative weekly," said Michael Kinsley, editor of The New Republic. "Everyone keeps trying and they keep failing. I don't know why. The Weekly had some good things."
David Adler, president of Washington Dossier, said his company declined to invest in The Weekly because "there's just no money in something like that. It's an idea that might have worked in 1965 or 1975 but not 1985." Adler said Washington "should be covered like it's Hollywood, a fun place where the rich and famous eat, drink and go."
When The Weekly was first organized by its founding editor Jeff Stein, the model was the Boston Phoenix, which has a mix of arts, entertainment, politics, gossip and investigative reporting.
Stein and Bingham, however, differed sharply over the editorial direction of the paper and Stein left last October. While Margaret Carlson edited the magazine on an interim basis, the job was offered to numerous journalists in Washington before it was accepted by Bill Thomas in February. Thomas called yesterday's decision "depressing." Adler said that Thomas will soon become editor of Washington Dossier.
Stein says he had pushed for more political and investigative reporting during his tenure; Bingham described the first months as "terrible."
Said Peretz, "The Weekly got better over a year. It was livelier and less depressingly '60s-ish, which is how you'd characterize the first period. And it covered Washington better, which is what it was supposed to do."
Some investors, including Florida state senator Jack Gordon, disagreed. "The paper never approached serious journalism," said Gordon, who was a limited partner. "There just wasn't enough to read."
Another limited partner, Hodding Carter III, said, "The real loss, besides the financial one, is the loss to diversity. I hate seeing almost any publication failing."
"We finally worked out the kinks," Bingham said. "And for the last six months we had the paper we wanted to put out. Today is bittersweet for us. I'm still hoping someone will ride in and save us tomorrow. I'm optimistic. But tomorrow's probably a pipe dream."