The Strip Breaks Away from Magnolia Media

Partnership with Birmingham Weekly ends

Packing for a move into new offices isn’t the biggest change on the horizon for The Strip in Tuscaloosa, Ala.

The bi-weekly alternative newspaper, which has been in publication since September 1998, recently broke away from Magnolia Media (also parent company of the Birmingham Weekly), and is now the flagship publication of newly formed Monkey Media.

“We wanted to be able to say we were calling meetings for ‘monkey business,’” jokes publisher Brooks Cloud, about how the owners chose the name.

Cloud also leaves his positions as general manager and ad director of the Weekly.

Monkey Media consists of The Strip and Tuscaloosa Business Ink, a business journal that Magnolia Media had been publishing quarterly since early last year. Each has a circulation of 10,000 — The Strip through free pick-up distribution points, and Business Ink via direct mail.

In late 1999, Weekly founder Tina Savas introduced Cloud to Chuck Leishman, who was then the newly named general manager of the Weekly. The two men discussed joining forces to form a new corporation, at least in part to garner better regional and national advertising for both papers. Soon, the Atlanta-based Creative Loafing alternative newspaper chain, which at the time had a monthly publication in Birmingham, was also interested.

That was early 2000, around the same time an inter-family sale of Creative Loafing was proposed, and negotiations were put on hold while that transfer was completed. The deal was closed that September and Magnolia Media was born of the three-member partnership (two other investors also held a small percentage the of stock, as they still do).

But the venture lasted less than a year and a half, and the split will be final sometime this month. Leishman bought out Cloud’s share of Magnolia, and the latter moved back to Tuscaloosa from Birmingham, reversing the move he’d made when the partnership was formed. Leishman is now the majority shareholder in Magnolia Media, while Creative Loafing still has its original 28-percent ownership.

“(The whole deal) just got off on the wrong foot,” Cloud explains of the Magnolia partnership, adding that he believes each publication needs separate leadership. “There were no personal issues or anything between me and Chuck … we sort of have separate business directions we’re going.”

“Brooks started The Strip, and The Strip really needed the attention of an on-site publisher,” Leishman agrees. “I think both Brooks and I found we were not positioning ourselves well (with respect to each paper).”

Weekly Editor Darin Powell says he stays in touch with his counterpart at The Strip, Lisa Eno, and that they still share some editorial ideas and content.

“Quite often, there are areas we can work together, and we do,” he says. “(The split) is mostly, from what I can tell, a business thing.”

While the name Monkey Media may lend itself to frivolity, Cloud’s intentions for his company are anything but. The 21-year-old publisher who started The Strip with “a hundred dollars and lots of sweat equity” is now a 25-year-old businessman with a long-term plan to make The Strip a weekly publication and expand circulation. He also wants to increase readership of Business Ink and oversee its transition from a direct-mail to a monthly subscription publication.

“What will ultimately make you successful is blanketing the city with newspapers. Wherever people turn around — at the coffee shop, at the book store, the restaurant — we need to be there, because that’s the best advertising you have,” Cloud says Leishman taught him.

A veteran of newspaper management in California and Kansas City before he came to Birmingham, Leishman wants to increase both advertising and hard news content in the 30,000-circulation Weekly to become a “newspaper of record.”

His editor is all for that. “I just want to get more news, more hard-hitting stuff into the paper,” says Powell, adding he hopes to beef up investigative features and discussion of issues in the pages of the Weekly as ad revenue grows.

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

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