After 16 years, Cleveland's oldest AAN member published its last issue today. Started by labor lawyer Richard Siegel in 1992, the alt-weekly survived even after its founder died a year later, always striving to remain faithful to his mission of providing "tough-minded, responsible and gutsy coverage of what's really going on in" Cleveland. Although Free Times survived a temporary shutdown in 2002-03, this time it appears to be closing for good. In its final issue, the paper publishes a series of tributes, remembrances, and critiques.
"The idea, of course, is that with no competition to siphon off advertisers or keep ad prices rock-bottom, one alt-weekly might accomplish what the Free Times and Scene couldn't: make enough money to survive," Scene managing editor Joe Tone says of the recently announced merger. "And it's hard to bemoan the consolidation. Had they not become one, the two papers would have eventually become none." However, Tone notes that, for now, Cleveland "will lose some journalists." In addition to former editor Pete Kotz, who has already left for Nashville, Tone says staff writer Lisa Rab and food critic Elaine Cicora have departed. Frank Lewis, who last week was named the new paper's editor, reports on the Free Times blog that the other managers have been named. Sean Misutka and Joe Strailey have been plucked from the Scene to be ad sales manager and classified sales manager, respectively. And three additional Free Times managers have found homes at the new paper: Steve Antol is the circulation manager; Tim Divis is the business manager, and Steve Miluch is the production manager.
AAN News has learned that Frank Lewis has been named the editor of the Scene, which is being merged with the Free Times by new owners Times-Shamrock on July 23. The announcement was made to the two staffs yesterday. Former Scene editor Pete Kotz began his tenure as editor of the Nashville Scene this week. Lewis joined the Free Times in 2005 after serving as the Scene's managing editor. Before that, he spent close to seven years at the Philadelphia City Paper.
The San Francisco Bay Guardian executive editor offers his take on the deal announced last week that will merge the Cleveland Free Times and Cleveland Scene under new owners Times Shamrock. He wonders why "VVM couldn't create a monopoly, [but] another newspaper outfit apparently can." He's referring to when the Justice Department nixed a similar 2002 deal between New Times and Village Voice Media (then two separate companies) that shuttered the Free Times. Justice forced the sale of Free Times to a group of investors, and the paper reopened in May 2003. "I'll leave it to you to speculate on why we couldn't do this deal, but Times Shamrock could," VVM executive editor Andy Van De Voorde says. Redmond says the Justice Department has yet to respond to his request for comment.
The other shoe has dropped. Times-Shamrock just announced that it is buying Cleveland Free Times as well as the Cleveland Scene, and will merge the two publications into a single paper on July 23. The new paper will be called the Scene, and current Free Times publisher Matt Fabyan will run it. "This is a great addition to our existing group of alternative newsweeklies," says Don Farley, group publisher of Times-Shamrock's stable of alt-weeklies, which now numbers five. "We look forward to serving the greater Cleveland community for many, many years." UPDATE: Fabyan tells the Plain-Dealer that the deal had "been in the works for a while," and Crain's Cleveland Business reports that staffers at each paper are being asked to reapply to the new paper.
Lawyers and economists from the U.S. Justice Department are investigating if the Cleveland Free Times can "be a viable business in the current media climate" in the city, according to the Plain Dealer. The Free Times was closed in 2002 when its owner, Village Voice Media, agreed to shutter it, giving Cleveland's other alt-weekly, the New Times-owned Scene, a monopoly. (The two parent companies merged in 2005.) The Justice Dept. investigated that deal and forced the sale of Free Times to a group of investors. Former Free Times editor David Eden tells the Plain Dealer he was recently questioned by lawyers from Justice about whether or not he thought the paper could be turned around. He says he told them that Cleveland needs the paper's independent voice and he hopes it is sold to a local group rather than being bought out by the competition and closed. "It feels like deja vu all over again," he says.
James Renner has released a book-length investigation into the unsolved 1989 abduction and murder of 11-year-old Amy Mihaljevic, reports the Record-Courier. "Amy: My Search for Her Killer," is published by Gray & Company, and grew out of a 5,000-word feature originally written for the Free Times. The book has already led to numerous tips for local law enforcement, says Renner. "My hope is that someone comes forward to say that they know who killed Amy," he says.
Three AAN members in the Buckeye State recently collaborated on election coverage so each could benefit from the others' insight into their "hometown" candidates. In profiles that were published in successive months in all three papers, Cincinnati CityBeat wrote about Republican gubernatorial candidate Ken Blackwell (pictured); Cleveland Free Times examined Democratic Senate candidate Sherrod Brown; and The Athens NEWS took a close look at Democratic gubernatorial candidate Ted Strickland. CityBeat editor John Fox talks about how and why he and his fellow editors pooled their resources.
Keith Rathbun has been the publisher of the Budget, a weekly newspaper for Amish and Mennonite readers, since he left the Cleveland Scene in 2000. Last week in the Cleveland Plain Dealer, Rathbun announced plans to launch an online version of the Budget. (Of course, the Budget's typical reader doesn't access the Internet, so the Web site will be designed for those doing research.) Rathbun said the Budget is "a lot like the old Scene. That was a special paper, and I had a great time. I was a music fan, but I wasn't a big nightclub guy. I would rather kick back in this kind of lifestyle. It's fun again to publish."