“We Rocked, and Now We’re Dead”

Epitaph for In Pittsburgh

The news of the sale of In Pittsburgh to Steel City Media, owner of rival Pittsburgh City Paper, stunned the staff at both papers, but executives at Steel City say the purchase will help them realize their ambitions for City Paper.

The sale, announced to both staffs last Thursday afternoon, shuttered In Pittsburgh. Some staff spent the weekend at the paper’s warehouse, gathering back copies for their files.

“We rocked, and now we’re dead,” says Steve Volk, senior editor of In Pittsburgh, in an open letter to the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. (Download Volk’s letter as a PDF file or as a Word document.)

“We know this is a contact sport, [but] it is not good news when the other guy hits the mat,” Andy Newman, editor of City Paper and a former editor of In Pittsburgh, told the Post-Gazette.

In Pittsburgh was originally the dominant alternative weekly in the market, but in the last few years their positions had reversed. Recently City Paper had been running at about a 100-page count, while In Pittsburgh was at 64.

The demise of In Pittsburgh was simple economics, says Anthony Clifton, president of Philadelphia-based Review Publishing, which purchased the alternative newsweekly from John Burstein in 1997.

Review Publishing also owns Philadelphia Weekly, the larger of the two AAN-members in Philadelphia. That publication is in no financial jeopardy, Clifton says, pointing out that Pittsburgh is half the size of Philadelphia and the 19th largest retail market in the country, compared to Philadelphia, which is the fifth largest.

“It has been commonly assumed for some time that Pittsburgh is better served by a single alternative newsweekly,” Clifton says.

Michael Frischling, publisher of Pittsburgh City Paper, agrees that Pittsburgh is too small a market to sustain two alternative newsweeklies.

In fact, when Steel City Media purchased Pittsburgh City Paper in November 1998, he says management approached Clifton and Review Publishing with “a discussion about how Pittsburgh could not support two alternative newsweeklies successfully. … We offered to buy In Pittsburgh then. He respectfully declined.”

In Pittsburgh was placed on the market over the summer through a broker, and Steel City made their bid for it only in the past few weeks, Frischling says.

City Paper is now offering interviews to all the nearly 30 employees left jobless by the closure of In Pittsburgh, although Frischling says “only a small percentage have taken us up on it.”

“Hopefully we can absorb many of them,” Frischling says.

“Everything happened so fast” that management is still assessing what this means to City Paper, Frischling says. However, there is “no question” Pittsburgh City Paper can expand now, he says.

The purchase “unties our hands,” he says. “We are expanding our page count, our ad count and our editorial coverage.”

The venerable In Pittsburgh name may also survive within City Paper. Both Clifton and Frischling say the two sides discussed creating an “In Pittsburgh” section within City Paper.

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