Washington may have another weekly newspaper if the plans of Jeff Stein, the former editor of the weekly City Paper, materialize.
For the last six weeks, Stein, 39, has been distributing a 15-page prospectus describing the weekly, tentatively titled Potomac Fever, to potential investors including Mort Zuckerman, a Boston real estate developer and owner of The Atlantic magazine, and Joan Bingham, a wealthy Washingtonian with an interest in journalism.
"I'm enthused about the possibility," said Zuckerman. "I'm exploring the situation here because I love Washington."
Zuckerman currently is developing real estate in Manhattan, Washington, Springfield and Rockville but said he intends to devote "a larger and larger part of my life to publishing."
Stein, Zuckerman and Bingham all said no money has yet been invested and that only a few meetings on the project have been held. "It hasn't even gotten off the drawing board," said Bingham. "We're just playing around with it."
Stein's preliminary plans call for a 40- to 80-page tabloid newspaper with contents resembling the Boston Phoenix or New York's Village Voice. It would sell for 50 cents.
"This would be for the Toyota driver, not the BMW driver," he said. "It's for the young, urban professional who comes here to work on the Hill, as reporters, as lawyers." To appeal to these readers, the newspaper would feature gossip columns about lawyers, lobbyists and media figures.
Stein discounted the influence of his former newspaper, The City Paper, and that of the weekly Washington Tribune, both of which are distributed at no charge, and said the newspaper's only direct competition would be Washingtonian magazine. "Washingtonian is successful because it followed its readers to the suburbs," he said. "We would extol the virtues of urban life, the cafe life style, books, films to go to, neighborhoods."
John Sansing, executive editor of Washingtonian, the city magazine founded in 1965, said of the proposed newspaper: "It wouldn't do anything to us. Like the Tribune and the City Paper, they are primarily calendar-oriented papers and their shelf life isn't terribly long. We'll sit on the coffee table for a while."
Michael Mariotte, general manager of The City Paper, said he was unaware of Stein's plans, but said, "I doubt if it would hurt us. Papers that charge don't cut into ours."
Stein, who was fired in April from The City Paper because of disagreements with the owner, has long been involved in Washington journalism. He wrote for Newsworks, a weekly that folded in 1976 after 10 months of publication, served as a Washington editor for The Progressive and has written for Esquire and the Village Voice.
Local weeklies make a mistake by "covering city council and neighborhood kind of stuff," he said. "The average Washingtonian doesn't really give a damn about city government or local stuff until they're here for five years."
As a result, he said Potomac Fever would concentrate on the arts and national and international news. "It's a counter paper. It picks up where the Post leaves off. The Post has to spread itself so thin, worrying about the person in Olney as well as Adams Morgan."
Zuckerman said the fledgling project is not a step toward creating a daily newspaper, although, "I would have argued there's room for another daily newspaper in Washington. . . . If I paint my closet, am I going on to build a million square-foot building?" he asked rhetorically. "One has nothing to do with the other."
Stein estimated it would cost $300,000 to launch the weekly newspaper.