Now that Ben Eason has lost control of Creative Loafing, what comes next?
(UPDATE: Wayne Garcia, Creative Loafing Tampa's political columnist, blogger, podcaster investigative reporter and media expert -- and perhaps the last name columnist left at the alt-weekly -- just announced he is leaving the company for a yearlong appointment at the University of Florida.
According to a post from Garcia on Loafing's Web site, he'll be accepting a job as the Freedom Forum Visiting Professional at UF's school of journalism, teaching four classes on investigative journalism and editing. It's also another blow for a newspaper that has seen many longtime staffers disappear due to layoffs.)
The final action concluded a yearlong struggle between Eason and New York hedge fund Atalaya Capital Management -- placing ownership of Creative Loafing in the hands of someone outside the Eason family for the first time since the company was founded 30 years ago.
Chicago Reader media critic Michael Miner has quotes from Atalaya's management team saying they felt Eason's cuts to meet his debt service were too deep in sales and editorial, assuring staffers they hope to improve the publications before, possibly, selling them off to recover their investment.
As St. Petersburg Times reporter James Thorner writes, Atalaya's $5-million bid for the six-newspaper chain more than doubled the $2.32-million bid made by Eason and his backers. Atalaya and Eason have been at odds since the chain filed bankruptcy in Sept. 2008; the hedge fund loaned Creative Loafing $30-million to buy the Chicago Reader and Washington City Paper in 2007, agreeing to write down its debt before the auction to $12-million.
But the open question for fans of the newspaper and its staffers, is: What happens now?
As I noted in a previous post, Atalaya has told the Reader that former Tribune Company executive and ex-Los Angeles Times editor Jim O'Shea is poised to join an Atalaya-owned Creative Loafing board, with former Des Moines Register president Richard Gilbert installed as CEO.
It is a bit of an irony that two men with such long histories in traditional newspapering might be called on to run the country's second-largest alternative newspaper chain.
The news also raises questions about whether the company's base will move from Tampa to New York, where Atalaya is based, or a city where the chain's bigger papers are located, say Chicago or Washington D.C.
Eason told Thorner he plans to start a new online publication based in Tampa.