Pittsburgh City Paper to Be Sold

CP Owner: Didn't Want to Sell, But "The Money Got to Be Too Good to Be True."

Change in foliage be damned, this fall is fast becoming the season of ownership change in the alternative newspaper business.

The Times of Acadiana — the Lafayette, LA newsweekly owned by Stephen May and his wife Cherry Fisher May — was purchased in September by Thomson Newspapers. As the month drew to a close, Riverfront Times ‘ Founder and Publisher Ray Hartmann announced he was selling his 21-year-old paper to New Times, Inc.

Now comes word out of Steel City that Pittsburgh City Paper’s Brad Witherell is pounding out a deal to sell his seven-year-old newsweekly to the Frischling family, owners of two local radio stations.

News of the sale was first reported last week in the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. Witherell — City Paper’s sole owner — told the daily: “There is an offer on the table.”

Witherell confirms the report for AAN News: “The [deal] is still going forward. The lawyers have it now. [The pending sale] is in an audit-type period. We’ve already presented to [the Frischling family and their lawyers] our numbers and now they’re going through the books and the lawyers are negotiating the actual agreement: the price, non-compete clause… things like that.”

Witherell says the parties are “shooting for a Nov. 1” closing date, but he acknowledges it may take a little longer to finalize the deal.

If and when the sale is consummated, it would mark the second ownership change in as many years for Pittsburgh’s alternative newspaper market. In Pittsburgh Newsweekly was bought last year by Review Publishing, the Philadelphia-based company that also owns AAN-member Philadelphia Weekly.

Witherell says he wasn’t thinking of selling the paper until he was approached this year by three different prospective buyers. While he declines to reveal the suitors’ identities, he says they didn’t include Stern Publishing or New Times, Inc., which collectively own 18 AAN-style weeklies.

“I was first approached by the Frischling family in August,” says Witherell. “It got into a bidding process and the money got to be too good to be true. Am I selling too early? Maybe. The paper is still growing. But my wife and I discussed it and decided that we have this incredible offer in front of us we should accept.”

City Paper has upped its weekly circulation by 10,000 since last year, when it was distributing 50,000 copies. During the same period, the paper has seen its page count double and its revenues swell by 70 percent, according to Witherell.

While Witherell wouldn’t divulge the sale price, he did say that City Paper will generate “in the range of $2.2 million in gross annual sales” this year. He also says the terms of the deal stipulate that he will remain publisher for at least two years after the sale is finalized.

The Frischling family’s holding company, WPNT Inc., owns WLTJ-FM and WRRK, two Pittsburgh-based radio stations. Gregg Frischling, the station’s general manager and a WPNT Inc. shareholder, has said that as rival companies expand into other mediums, his family firm must do the same in order to remain competitive.

“It [City Paper] is a good property,” says Frischling. “Between the newspaper and the radio stations, we think they go well together.”

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