The District’s alt-weekly Washington City Paper is to be purchased by D.C. businessman and Washington Kastles owner Mark Ein, the paper announced in a blog post Thursday, putting an end to weeks of speculation about where the financially troubled newspaper would land after SouthComm Inc., its previous owner, put it up for sale.
Chief editor Alexa Mills is to retain her post, and publisher Eric Norwood is to stay in an unspecified role as the paper searches for a new publisher. Financial details were not disclosed. The deal is expected to close in early January.
“Our vision [is] to become D.C.’s hometown newspaper, gradually expanding coverage to include more on education, sports, health, crime, and the other topics that comprise news in a city,” unnamed City Paper staffers wrote in the announcement. “We feel that this new ownership scenario affords us that chance.”
In a news release, Ein announced his intention to form a group of business, civic and media leaders to help guide the paper, including D.C. chef José Andrés, former mayor Anthony Williams, CNN anchor Jake Tapper and author and journalist Ta-Nehisi Coates.
“It’s impossible to overstate the importance of high quality journalism — particularly today,” Ein said in the statement. “With a talented staff and the support of our initial groups of respected journalistic veterans and business and civic leaders, I want to do everything I can to ensure that the City Paper continues producing great journalism and responsible local news for decades to come.”
For decades Washington City Paper has positioned itself as an on-the-ground guide to the city’s cultural and political institutions, offering readers restaurant and bar reviews alongside in-depth coverage of the District’s City Council and neighborhoods.
The paper has also invested deeply in locally oriented investigative journalism. It has long been viewed as an incubator for journalistic talent, helping industry leaders such as the late New York Times media columnist David Carr and Pulitzer Prize-winning former Washington Post reporter Kate Boo launch their careers.
It was among the first to sound the alarm over problems at the once-high-flying Living Social, which sold for $0 after raising more than $900 million from investors. More recently the paper published in-depth stories on D.C. developer Sanford Capital, which the paper called an alleged “slumlord” over squalid living conditions at city-subsidized housing units.
Thursday’s announcement also said Mills “was able to assure the WCP staff that they can expect continuity with regard to their roles and salaries at current levels,” addressing earlier reports that Washington City Paper staffers would face steep pay cuts. The Washingtonian magazine had reported Monday that City Paper employees would see their salaries cut by 40 percent as of Jan. 1, which would place some staffers’ salaries below $30,000 a year.
Ein’s decision to buy the paper means it is under local ownership for the first time in 35 years. Ein is active in the city’s business community as an investor and philanthropist, a tennis-enthusiast who owns the Washington Kastles tennis team. In recent years Ein has engineered creative deals to take companies public; using so-called special purpose acquisition companies — or SPACs — to buy up private businesses.
Several of Ein’s recent deals have involved the media industry. In 2015 Ein’s acquisition company purchased Lindblad Expeditions, an exotic travel firm that is responsible for the National Geographic tours that bring tourists to exotic locations alongside the magazine’s photographers. A similar deal took the public relations technology company Cision public.