The first alternative newspaper in history to be spawned by an antitrust settlement hit the streets last week exploding with entrepreneurial energy and vitriol directed at its main competitor, Cleveland Scene. Debuting with a summer-special issue weighing in at 112 pages, the new Cleveland Free Times unleashed a fusillade of name-calling and planted the flag of "local" ownership even though all but a sliver of the paper is owned by Times Publishing of Erie, Pa.
Former Village Voice Media President Art Howe is now CEO of a holding company formed by the Mead family of Erie, Pa., which owns the daily Erie Times-News, to pursue purchases of alternative newsweeklies. Cleveland Free Times is the first investment the company has made in an alt-weekly. The management team headed by former Free Times Publisher Matt Fabyan "has been made significant partners," Howe said.
A group of investors, including former Cleveland Free Times Publisher Matt Fabyan, Editor in Chief David Eden and former Village Voice Media President Art Howe, has purchased the assets of Cleveland Free Times from VVM and plans to resume publishing in early May. Most of the former staff has been offered jobs and many plan to return, Fabyan says in a news release. Free Times was shuttered as part of a deal between VVM and New Times that closed papers in Los Angeles and Cleveland, ending head-to-head competition between the two chains.
The Village Voice/New Times deal that closed New Times Los Angeles and VVM's Cleveland Free Times, is another sign of an "imploding economy," Cynthia Cotts writes in The Village Voice. She suggests that when VVM's venture capitalist owners start looking to cash out they could find a buyer in a daily newspaper chain or another alternative media company.
Iconoclastic alternative weeklies are doing business like the big boys, former Washington City Paper Editor David Carr writes in the New York Times. Carr reports that New Times received $8 million from Village Voice Media to close its money-losing New Times Los Angeles. "The willingness of the two ferociously competitive chains to make a deal in their common interest could mean that the next big deal by the companies could leave only one standing," Carr writes.
Village Voice Media paid NT Media more than $1 million to close New Times Los Angeles, sources tell the Los Angeles Times. New Times paid VVM a lesser amount to shutter Cleveland Free Times, the daily reports. An anti-trust lawyer says the transaction, negotiated quietly over the past three months, "could raise rather interesting antitrust issues."
Eric Broder, managing editor at the Cleveland Free Times, which turns 10 this week, remembers a time when the paper could hardly fill ad space. "The issue is 24 pages, consisting mainly of editorial. You don't want that. You want ads in there, and plenty of 'em. But this was the first issue. It's tough enough to sell ad space for a publication, and tougher yet for one that doesn't exist." Broder reflects on the last decade of a paper that was one business deal away from never happening.
Doug Clifton, editor of the Cleveland Plain Dealer, says a recent Cleveland Free Times column "can charitably be called a total fabrication." David Eden, editor in chief of the Free Times, had written that Plain Dealer "Publisher Alex Machaskee offered up [Auxiliary Bishop James] Quinn's head on a platter to Clevelanders as a smokescreen to save the neck of Bishop Anthony Pilla, a man he favors." Not so, Clifton says.