SouthComm buys Washington City Paper, Atlanta Creative Loafing

Washington City Paper | Creative Loafing Atlanta
SouthComm, Inc., has agreed to purchase Washington City Paper and Creative Loafing Atlanta. The deal was announced to staff in a meeting this afternoon.

SouthComm previously purchased Creative Loafing’s Charlotte and Tampa newspapers and owns a number of other alt-weeklies, including LEO Weekly and the Nashville Scene.

Reached by phone, City Paper Editor Mike Madden said, “SouthComm appears committed to the type of quality work that we’re proud to do here.” Madden said he didn’t know whether the company planned to restore the pay cut staffers took in March when City Paper, the Chicago Reader and Creative Loafing Atlanta were put on the block.

SouthComm CEO Chris Ferrell said in a phone interview that there were no immediate plans to restore the pay cut, but that the company would look at it as it prepared 2013 budgets.

“These are very good papers that have had a rough couple of years with all the transition they’ve been through,” Ferrell said. “I hope we can provide some stability and help them rebuild their page counts.”

City Paper Publisher Amy Austin said Ferrell has “obviously got a love for alternative media and journalism, so I’m happy about that.” Some of the functions Creative Loafing offshored when it bought City Paper and Chicago Reader in 2007 will return to the papers; ad production and some marketing will now be done in-house at City Paper and some of Atlanta’s Creative Services staff will move to the Atlanta paper, Ferrell said.

Ferrell sounds like a somewhat hands-off owner: “I talk with my publishers on a regular basis,” he said. “Editors have a lot of local autonomy.” Austin said one of the things she liked about Ferrell was he understood that what worked in one market didn’t always work in another, a frequent point of friction between the Reader and the City Paper and Creative Loafing after the latter bought City Paper and Chicago Reader in 2007.

Ferrell told me he’d been interested in the D.C. and Atlanta papers since the New York hedge fund Atalaya won the papers at a bankruptcy auction. “I contacted Atalaya shortly after the bankruptcy was filed to let them know I’d be interested,” he said. After SouthComm bought Creative Loafing’s Tampa and Charlotte papers, “we just continued to stay in touch,” Ferrell said. He has no other purchases in the pipeline, he said.

The Reader was sold in May to the parent company of the Chicago Sun-Times. Michael Schaffer just left the job as City Paper’s editor to join The New Republic.

Here’s Ferrell’s memo to staff:

Dear Creative Loafing and CityPaper Staff,

I am excited to welcome you to SouthComm. I hope after the last several years of transition that SouthComm will be a stable home for these papers for years to come. I first approached Atalaya about SouthComm acquiring these papers a few days after Creative Loafing filed for bankruptcy in 2008. I’m pleased it has finally come to fruition and hope you will be too.

I believe people who have declared the “death of print” are painting with too broad of a brush. The decline of large market daily papers is not the same thing as the death of print. In fact, the decline of dailies in our markets creates both an increased opportunity and an increased responsibility for weekly papers like the ones we operate. The relationship Creative Loafing and the CityPaper have with their readers and advertisers spans decades. That is a relationship that I believe can transcend platforms. We strive to deliver information to our readers the way they want to consume it and to deliver our readers to our advertisers in ways they can effectively reach them. As a result what we do in the cities where we work is more than produce a weekly paper. We do that, but we also have robust online offerings, events we produce, and other niche publications we publish online and in print.

I have told many people that there are undoubtedly easier ways to make a living than running alt-weeklies, but the truth is that I love these papers and what they mean to the cities in which they publish. You have the opportunity to shape the public discourse in your cities for the better. Whether writing about public policy, music, dining, or the fine arts, you have the opportunity to participate in making your cities a better place to live. On the sales side, you help the local economy be more vibrant by helping local businesses reach people who would love their services. Those are important missions that when done well, make our cities more livable communities.

I look forward to meeting you and working with you in the days and weeks to come.

Creative Loafing Atlanta’s Eric Celeste reports:

In a press release – as well as a lunch conversation that I’m not saying happened last week but probably did – SouthComm CEO Chris Ferrell said he expected no immediate editorial changes at the papers. Ferrell said he will examine each market to decide whether to introduce new print and digital products to complement the publications. Ferrell, a former Nashville city councilman who formed the company in 2007, said that although Atlanta and D.C. represent larger markets than SouthComm has previously served, the company’s business principles still apply.

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