UNDERNEWS

Undernews is the online report of the Progressive Review, edited by Sam Smith, who covered Washington during all or part of one quarter of America's presidencies and edited alternative journals since 1964. The Review has been on the web since 1995. See main page for full contents

August 26, 2009

HEDGE FUND TAKING OVER ALTERNATIVE WEEKLIES

St Petersburg Times - A New York hedge fund wrested control of the Creative Loafing newspaper chain, promising to keep the weekly tabloids running in Tampa, Sarasota, Atlanta, Chicago, Charlotte, N.C., and Washington, D.C. In a bankruptcy auction in Tampa, Atalaya Capital Management's $5 million bid blew away the field. Creative Loafing's longtime owners, the Eason family, opened the bidding by offering $2.32 million, but didn't counter when Atalaya upped the ante. Ben Eason, effectively removed as chief executive of the chain, vowed to start afresh this week with a new online publication based in Tampa. Eason had run family publications for close to 20 years. "I've started three newspapers in my time," Eason said as the two-hour auction broke up around noon. "I'll start a fourth."

Creative Loafing's own report on the sale noted that Atalaya's managing partner, Michael Bogdan, has chosen experienced news executives to join the board. They include former Los Angeles Times editor Jim O'Shea; Richard Gilbert, a former executive with the Des Moines (Iowa) Register and the St. Paul (Minn.) Pioneer Press; and Michelle Laven, formerly of the New Times alternative weekly chain and now with Clear Channel LA.

Sam Smith, Progressive Review - Several of the nation's leading "alternative" weeklies have been taken over by a hedge fund. The weeklies will now be run by the likes of former editors of conventional newspapers and someone working for Clear Channel which not only is the owner of the largest chain of radio stations and a major infector of billboards, but the network that features the likes of Glen Beck, Rush Limbaugh, Sean Hannity, and the Savage Nation.

Of course, these weeklies were never really alternative papers. Years ago when Jack Shafer, now of Slate, was editing Washington's City Paper, he explained it to me: "Look, Sam, we're not an alternative news medium; we're an alternative advertising medium."

Having put out alternative publications since before they had a name, I have long been fascinated by the claim of certain free urban weeklies that they were "alternative." As I wrote early in their existence, when you read them you got the impression that when the revolution came, the guerillas would come down the mountain wearing jackets from Bloomingdales, on Head skis and listening to Walkmen. These urban weeklies became the voice of the gentry moving into our cities, modestly seeing themselves as part of a great renaissance and perpetuating the corporate-friendly myth that cool and hip are something you buy, attend or listen to rather than something you are.

Still, they have frequently offered something different from conventional media, and so the idea of some of them being owned by a hedge fund has somewhat the same feel as a rock group being owned by Wal Mart.

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