City Paper focuses on Web after owner files for bankruptcy

Two weeks after the Washington City Paper’s parent company filed for bankruptcy, its editor said the weekly newspaper is focusing its energy on the Internet and is “more lively than ever.”

On Sept. 29, Creative Loafing Inc., which owns the City Paper and five other papers across the country, announced that it had filed Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection.

“The print model has been in trouble for years now, on a straight decline,” City Paper editor Erik Wemple said in an interview. “It’s related to the Internet, but in actuality, I think it is more complicated than that.”

The paper will still continue its weekly publication, and it even parodied the bankruptcy filing in its Oct. 9 issue with a cover story resembling a court document reading “Chapter 86 Content Reorganization and Injunctive Relief against Reader Expectations.”

In a spoof news release to accompany the fake court document, the paper mocked the dismal future of print journalism and said the paper tried to “tap into a market that seems unable to walk down the street without texting someone.”

The news release also joked that the paper will “continue to publish under court protection from its readers, who have wielded an unreasonable degree of power over the publication’s future.”

Since its inception in 1981, the “alternative newsweekly” has attained a circulation of 82,000 in the District, Virginia and Maryland. Tampa Bay, Fla.-based Creative Loafing purchased the City Paper in June 2007. The company denied a strong link between bankruptcy and its recent acquisition of the City Paper and another paper at about the same time.

“It hasn’t been easy, but it has been successful. The assumptions we made have not turned out to be so successful,” said Creative Loafing CEO Ben Eason in a corporate memo. “The print business has been under siege from all quarters with the exception of the one place that counts; audience.”

The paper’s Web site explains that recent changes in the economy and readership have made elements of production “unsustainable as currently practiced.”

Among these changes is the decline in print readership and a widespread crossover to more Internet-centric news consumption.

Wemple said the paper will take the next few weeks to reorganize and put more energy into its Web site. He predicts that a stronger Internet base will be a modern and more profitable way to increase news circulation, but the newspaper will still continue its print publication.

“We are still a profitable enterprise, just as we’ve always been,” Wemple said. “People still care about this city, so we are still strong.”

Under Chapter 11, the corporation will have time to restructure and reorganize its finances and model for operation.

All other newsweeklies under the control of Creative Loafing, including those in Atlanta, Tampa Bay, Chicago and Charlotte, N.C., are also affected by the filing.

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