New York Press Owners Staying with Smith’s Editorial Mix

Staff reductions main change so far

On Dec. 23, Chuck Colletti and Doug Meadow gave themselves a holiday gift — the 15-year-old New York Press.

Begun in April 1988 by Russ Smith, the Press will continue to feature his “Mugger” column, self-described as “the libertarian/conservative (view) in town.” Smith will not, however, stay on in any managerial capacity.

“I sold because I’ve owned weeklies since ’77 and am tired of the business grind,” he says. “I sold to the new owners, New Yorkers, because they liked the product and seemed most likely — (as) opposed to out-of-towners — to keep most of the staff on board.”

According to other published reports, industry insiders speculate the Press had been losing money for the past few years, perhaps as much as $1 million a year. In a Dec. 24 New York Sun interview, Smith confirmed “negligible” losses since 1996. Colletti tells AAN News the paper was underperforming and only “marginally profitable.”

Colletti has assumed duties as president and Meadow, as chief operating officer, of their newly-formed New York Press, LLC, partnership. Both have backgrounds in publishing, though this is their first joint venture.

Colletti began his career in 1969 and has been “everything from junior salesman to international publisher” and has owned two publishing companies. His resume includes the magazines Cuisine, Success and Frequent Flyer. He has also served as a local media consultant. Prior to this venture, Meadow was with Meadow Publishing, a family company, which sold two years ago, for 20 years.

Neither was willing to disclose details of the sale such as purchase price or investor names and are keeping any business model changes under wraps. Meadow says the Press has a 116,000 circulation and is usually 96 to 120 pages, with a 65/35 advertising to editorial split.

“The last thing we want (competitors) to know is what we’re planning to do,” Colletti says.

According to both partners, however, any changes to the to the paper’s eclectic editorial mix of politics, arts, features and news would be minimal.

“We like the product,” Colletti says.

“We basically love the content and the look of the product already,” Meadow says, adding that the pair plan to take a “pretty hands-off approach.” If anything, the paper might add more arts coverage.

However, new management made one immediate change: they replaced Editor John Strausbaugh with former Managing Editor Lisa Kearns. Colletti says he and Meadow wanted to bring new vitality to the position.

“We just thought it would be a good thing to do,” he says. He would not comment further on their reasons for firing Strausbaugh except to add, “I cannot say that John’s style is incompatible with ours. I don’t know John.”

Strausbaugh, who had been on vacation at the time of the purchase, could not be located for comment.

Other positions within the newspaper were eliminated altogether. Meadow estimates the Press employs roughly 50 people and, while neither he nor Colletti would explain or comment on the staff reductions, Meadow says only a few “mostly lower level” people were let go.

Other published accounts have quoted the new Press owners by turns as venerating New York’s flagship altie, The Village Voice, and as wanting to unseat it. Colletti says any account that quotes him as planning to topple the Voice — more than twice the size and age of the Press — isn’t accurate.

“I have no idea of how to dethrone the Village Voice,” he says, but adds that the Press also plays a vital role with New York readers. “Do we feel competitive to the Village Voice? Absolutely.”

While he doesn’t think the Press can outgrow the Voice, Colletti says, “I wouldn’t be in business if I didn’t look to be in the No. 1 position.”

Even arch-conservative Smith, who says the Voice is “stuck in a late-70s political mindset,” says he had no ambition to put the Voice out of business when he started the Press.

“I wasn’t that presumptuous,” he says. “Rather, it was the belief that New York City was big enough to support two quality weeklies. Also, commercially, the Voice, which was a paid paper at the time, had outpriced itself with small advertisers, so I saw an opening there.” (The Voice became a free paper in Manhattan in 1996.)

From the beginning, The Press focused on personal journalism and long stories that weren’t necessarily political in nature. Smith says he wanted it to be a “writer’s paper.”

“I wanted readers to get infuriated with one writer, and then turn the page and flip over (to) another writer,” he says.

Ann Hinch is a freelance writer based in Knoxville, Tenn.