Creative Loafing Buys a Huge Chunk of Alternative Media
When I got a call from a friend at Creative Loafing telling me the company was about to close a deal to buy the Chicago Reader and Washington City Paper -- two of the biggest alternative newspapers in the country -- I was stepping into a car to drive over to the set where they film TNT's The Closer (more on that in a separate post). So I wasn't able to do muc more than alert our crack business news staff, who probably already knew.
They're going to have a full story in tomorrow paper that I had nothing to do with. What I wonder: will we see a further corporatization of alternative media? Or will these new outlets find a new way of doing business that won't compromise their editorial mission? Will Creative Loafing try to leverage some of the reporting and editorial assets of these papers in its other properties -- particularly those located in Florida?
If our story tomorrow doesn't answer those questions, I promise to try exploring them when I return to town. In the meantime, here's the full press release:
TAMPA, Fla. – Two of the country’s leading alternative weekly newspapers, Chicago
Reader and Washington City Paper, were acquired today by Creative Loafing Inc., which owns alternative weeklies in Atlanta, Tampa, Sarasota and Charlotte.
The Chicago and Washington, D.C. papers were both controlled by founders of ChicagoReader. Also included in the acquisition is the “Straight Dope” syndicated column, whose
associated website, straightdope.com, has nearly 2.3 million page views per month.
Chicago Reader, founded in 1971, is one of the oldest alternative newspapers in the
country and now has an average weekly circulation of 135,000 papers. The Washington City Paper, founded in 1982, has an average circulation of 80,000. Both newspapers are highly regarded for their coverage of urban issues, arts and culture.
“We are extremely proud to be associated with these great media companies,” said
Creative Loafing CEO Ben Eason, whose family founded the first Creative Loafing newspaper in Atlanta in 1972. The company expanded into Charlotte in 1987, Tampa in 1988 and Sarasota in 1999 and is now headquartered in Tampa. It also has a minority interest in the Birmingham
Weekly in Alabama. “We have built our Creative Loafing brand by offering valuable content to
people who influence public opinion and public tastes in culturally vibrant markets. The addition
of two top-ten markets – and two of the industry’s most respected alternative news products –
offers us a pivotal gateway of connectivity with the young adult audience.”
“Our expansion into Chicago and Washington reflects our confidence in the future of
alternative publishing – in print, on the web and in other media as they emerge,” Eason said.
“While others may be looking at publishing companies through the lens of old print media, we
are pioneering the opportunities offered by convergent print, web, and new media applications.”
The acquisition includes a financial investment from BIA Digital Partners, a private investment firm in Chantilly, Va. Gregg Johnson of BIA Digital Partners will serve on Creative Loafing’s Board. Chicago Reader and Washington City Paper were represented by Bulkley Capital, L.P., based in Dallas.
Creative Loafing’s other four newspapers have combined average circulation of nearly
275,000 papers per week. “We will have weekly circulation of approximately half a million
newspapers, monthly print readership of 2,000,000 and more than ten million page views per
month on our various websites.
“We operate in fantastic cities that have vibrant cultures. All are wonderful places to live
and work and play, and our company will grow as they grow. The real opportunity,” Eason
added, “lies now with our advertising partners, who can advance meaningful marketing initiatives
through our unparalleled ability to engage the most creative and involved community leaders
through our print, internet, and new mobile and event opportunities.”
Eason said the combination of these two groups of alternative papers will produce
substantial savings from combined corporate and administrative costs and reliance on CL’s
centralized operations for production and printing. The combination of publications, internet
platforms and event/social networking strategies will also appeal to national advertisers seeking
to reach its educated, culturally aware audience in these major metropolitan areas.
“There has never been a more exciting or challenging time to be in the publishing
business. We’re thrilled to be in the position to take advantage of the trends that are emerging:
localism, local search, hard hitting/community focused journalism, and the avenues available to
local media companies like Creative Loafing/Reader/City Paper. We have the brands and
credibility to offer our audience content in print, web, and mobile and the creation of events and
social networks to tie individual audience members into communities.”