Four suggestions for improving things at Creative Loafing
Emerging from bankruptcy after a $5 million bid from its biggest creditor, the Tampa-based alternative newspaper chain has a new owner that insists it doesn't want to sell off the company's parts right away. Instead, New York hedge fund Atalaya Capital Management has convened a board of experts from traditional newspapers, vowing to draft a plan that improves the chain's profitability enough to sell to a long-term owner.
All this probably sounds good for the staffers still working at the company, except for one question: How?
In line with the hopeful atmosphere, I'm going to suggest a few improvements that might help -- based primarily on observing the Tampa edition of Creative Loafing. It may not help the St. Petersburg Times' bottom line, but a strong alternative press eventually helps the community.
Suggestion 1: Get some aggressive, entertaining name writers back in the house.
In the past, CL staffers such as Wayne Garcia, John Sugg and Eric Snider were more than quality writers -- they were the newspaper's face in the community and a promise of something quirky, aggressive, comprehensive or inventive. Perhaps the paper could take a page from the mainstream rags and hire back some old hands part-time, for limited, high-profile contributions while developing new talent (seeing laid off writer Alex Pickett's byline on a recent story is a good sign).
Suggestion 2: Watch (as in, be careful of) the porn.
Too many columnists posting explicitly sexual items to the Web site, hoping for a quick burst of users, tarnishes the brand -- making the publication look amateurish and giving big mainstream advertisers second thoughts. Rewarding low-paid online columnists according to the traffic they generate already encourages such behavior; a little cheeky sex in copy is fun, but too much can damage the brand.
Suggestion 3: Break news, especially news that mainstream outlets won't report.
What I have loved most about good alternative newspapers is their ability to break news that mainstream outlets find difficult to report. An alternative newspaper often does its best work holding accountable those who hold others accountable. There's a multitude of civic issues at hand that a grass roots alternative newspaper could grab hold of, and explore in new ways; doing that in a provocative, localized way builds the brand tremendously.
Suggestion 4: Offer online wares your community can't find anywhere else.
We're all trying to do this, of course. And the multitude of offerings on CL's current Web site is a great start. But I wonder if some of the possibilities offered by social media would also work well for an alternative newspaper like CL. The one advantage alternative weeklies have historically touted is a closer connection to their communities. Time to turn that into a network of online connections that reach users in new ways.