Why City Pages could really suck soon

Categories: Media
Big Quarters on City Pages cover.jpg
On Tuesday the San Francisco Bay Guardian posted a thorough editorial on the rumors (more here) of a possible imminent merger between the Phoenix-based New Times alternative weekly newspaper chain and Village Voice Media, which owns City Pages: "If there's a grain of truth here, and VVM and New Times are in any sort of talks, the implications for the alternative press and for readers, advertisers, and employees in 18 cities are too serious for federal regulators to ignore." A spokeswoman for Village Voice Media, Jessica Bellucci, denied the rumors in the New York Sun on August 16: "As far as I know, it's complete fiction." But recent pay cuts at the Village Voice have fueled speculation to the contrary, and some anticipate the cookie-cutter layout and apolitical bent of a New Times Twin Cities. UPDATE 8/29/05 From the San Francisco Bay Guardian: "Internal Village Voice documents detail plans to create 18-paper alt-press chain." For anyone who's ever wondered who owns City Pages, here's a brief history of the newspaper and its corporate parents so far...


Founded as Sweet Potato in 1979, City Pages was purchased in February 1997 by pet-supply magnate Leonard Stern (who had bought the Village Voice from Rupert Murdoch in 1985, 30 years after it was founded by Norman Mailer and two colleagues). In March 1997, Stern Publishing also bought, and closed, the Twin Cities Reader (the same day that REV 105 was taken off the air).

In 2000, Stern sold City Pages, along with the Village Voice, Seattle Weekly, L.A. Weekly, OC Weekly, Cleveland Free Times, and Long Island Voice (closed two days later) to Weiss, Peck & Greer, a New York-based investment management firm founded in 1970, which had been acquired in 1998 by the Dutch company the Robeco Group. At the time of the Village Voice sale, Robeco was 50-percent owned by Rabobank, which in 2001 fully took over Robeco. (Rabobank, in turn, is owned by 288 Dutch banks.) More recently, Weiss has been vertically absorbed into Robeco, and is now a division of Robeco Investment Management. That's the current majority owner of Village Voice Media. (A notice on the Weiss web page reads: "As of the end of September, 2005, this site will be discontinued.")

Weiss was part of a team of investors headed by Arthur Howe, former president of Montgomery Newspapers (which owns the Philadelphia City Paper), who was named president of the new Village Voice Media. Longtime Voice publisher and Stern Publishing president David Schneiderman became CEO of VVM. Other backers included Trimaran Fund II, which is essentially the investment arm of the Canadian Imperial Bank of Commerce, and Goldman Sachs. Around that same time, Weiss and Howe had acquired (or were in the process of acquiring) the Nashville Scene and the Lexington, Kentucky Ace Weekly, so both of those newspapers were folded into the chain until the Ace was sold to its editor-publisher in 2001.

According to a Village Voice report, Howe and company had "helped stave off a hostile takeover by New Times," which had been Stern's main competition. But Howe has since left his position, and the two chains have apparently grown more friendly. In 2002, Village Voice Media closed its Free Times in Cleveland in exchange for New Times closing its New Times Los Angeles, each competitor openly ceding one market to the other. The affair spurred a Justice Department antitrust probe, and both chains ended up settling with the U.S. in 2003. As a result, assets of the closed papers were sold off, and in no time the Free Times was back up and running, while the L.A. CityBeat has since emerged in Los Angeles. The Free Times was launched, oddly enough, in partnership with former Village Voice Media president Arthur Howe.

Obviously, there's more to this story, and most of this is background, so stay tuned, and post your responses here.



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