Eleventh Paper for Growing Chain.
This article was updated October 15 at 5:12 PM, EDT.
In the latest incidence of consolidation in the alternative newspaper business, it was announced yesterday that Kansas City’s PitchWeekly has been sold to New Times Inc. The addition of PitchWeekly and its circulation of 100,000 brings New Times’ total to 11 papers and a combined weekly circulation of 1.1 million.
PitchWeekly was started in May 1980 as a music publication and eventually developed into Kansas City’s preeminent alternative newspaper. Its dominant position in the market was sealed with the demise in 1997 of a former AAN paper named, ironically, Kansas City New Times.
In a move that may have signaled yesterday’s announcement, PitchWeekly last month left the national advertising cooperative Alternative Weekly Network [AWN] to join forces with the New Times-owned Ruxton Group.
PitchWeekly owner and founder Hal Brody says he sold the paper so he could spend more time with his six teenage children. “For me personally, the timing is right. I need to spend some more time with my family. They need me, and it’s a good arrangement for everybody,” he says. “New Times is getting a great property; the [PitchWeekly ] staff has never been stronger, and the PitchWeekly name is a very powerful brand name in this area.”
Brody confirmed that New Times will not change the name of the paper, and he is confident that they don’t intend to alter the character of the paper. “I feel that [New Times] will maintain the nature of what we do, maintain the ‘alternativeness’ of the paper, and add some structure,” he says. “I feel good that what we started is just going to continue.”
Brody broke the news to his staff on Thursday at a luncheon that was held to celebrate the production of the paper’s first annual guide to Kansas City. “I just stood up and told everybody as a group, all 45 of them.” Although he admitted that the announcement caught some by surprise, he says he doesn’t think it was “a huge shock.”
Following the luncheon, four New Times representatives (President and Chief Operating Officer Hal Smith, Executive Vice President Scott Spear, Resources Director Marjorie Simmons, and Executive Associate Editor Andy Van De Voorde) spoke to the PitchWeekly staff. Brody says they provided reassurance that they “plan to build on what we’ve got, and I have a lot of confidence that they can. If I were staying here, we would still be growing as we have been, but under New Times, PitchWeekly might grow faster.”
Michelle Rubin, Managing Editor of PitchWeekly, says of Brody’s departure: “Everyone seems happy for Hal, but definitely sorry to see him retire. He’s been the sole owner of the paper for 20 years, and it’s hard to think of him not being around. As for the change in ownership, obviously everyone has a lot of questions, but the New Times representatives who are on hand to address those questions seem to have been very candid in their answers, which helps allay those inevitable fears and clarify the company’s intentions. Change is always tough, but, for the most part, the staff seems excited about the ways in which New Times can help PitchWeekly grow.”
The New Times representatives also announced that Westword Advertising Director Scott Tobias would move to Kansas City to take Brody’s place as publisher.
Van De Voorde says of the next six weeks of due diligence: “This will be a period of learning and observation for us: getting to know [the staff] as individuals, and getting to know their newspaper,” he says. “It’s business as usual here.”
“PitchWeekly was in a war, and they won,” says Van De Voorde, recalling the paper’s long struggle with Kansas City New Times. “We think it’s well positioned, and we’re expecting great things.”
As Kansas City reels from yesterday’s announcement that 900 Hoechst Marion Roussel employees will lose their white-collar jobs, PitchWeekly Editor Bruce Rodgers says, “It has been stressed over and over that no one [at PitchWeekly ] will lose their job. [New Times has] been giving reassurances that nothing is going to change.”
Rodgers notes that in the seven years he has been with the paper, it has grown from 32 to 96 pages, and from ten full-time employees to a staff of more than 40. Given New Times’ reputation for beefing up editorial, Rodgers says some staff members are looking forward to a potential increase in resources. Rodgers also says that New Times’ penchant for magazine-style journalism may influence the paper’s approach to the editorial content.
Concludes Rodgers, “On a personal level, I got a little emotional because of the sale, but I’m really happy about the contributions everyone has put in to make PitchWeekly an appealing purchase to New Times. Though it’s a blessing in a lot of ways, there’s a certain sadness because we’re no longer independent.”