'Washington City Paper' Will Continue To Offer Local News With New Owner
ARI SHAPIRO, HOST:
2017 has been a tough year for local news outlets across the U.S. In New York, the Village Voice stopped publishing a print edition. In Los Angeles, new owners gutted the staff of LA Weekly. And until yesterday, it looked like the Washington City Paper was headed for a similar fate. It's a free weekly paper that has covered local news and culture in Washington D.C. since the early 1980s. And just in time for the holidays, employees got some good news. Caroline Jones is the paper's managing editor and joins us here in the studio. Welcome.
CAROLINE JONES: Thank you.
SHAPIRO: So at the beginning of this week, things were looking grim for the Washington City Paper. Explain why.
JONES: On Monday, we received a call from the CFO of the parent company that has been trying to sell us since mid-October, saying that if a buyer for the paper was not found by this week, the staff would be having their salaries cut by 40 percent.
SHAPIRO: Four-zero - 40 percent.
JONES: Four-zero, yes. So it was looking grim. And we didn't know what was going to happen. We haven't really had a huge role in the selling process. But last night was our holiday potluck. And (laughter)...
SHAPIRO: And what happened?
JONES: Around 7:45, we got a press release that said that Mark Ein, who's a local philanthropist and a venture capitalist in D.C., had reached a deal, and he has bought Washington City Paper.
SHAPIRO: You're grinning as you say this.
JONES: I'm so excited. You know, we would be spared our fate. And we would live to produce many more issues, not just one more.
SHAPIRO: The newspaper has been around for more than 30 years. What does this new ownership mean?
JONES: This is our first local, D.C.-based owner in the paper's 30-some year history. And it's really exciting to have someone who grew up in the D.C. area and knows D.C. really well investing in local news at a time when local news in D.C. is sort of undergoing a lot of changes. It's not been a great year. We lost DCist, who...
SHAPIRO: Part of a network of websites that included LAist, Gothamist and other local news sites around the country.
JONES: And we were big fans of theirs. We loved having a crowded market where we knew people and were able to build on stories. And so it's great to have someone who knows D.C. and wants to invest in the local news that Washington City Paper covers.
SHAPIRO: In an unusual step, the new owner, Mark Ein, is putting together a council of local luminaries, from a former D.C. mayor to a prominent chef. And some of these are people whose activities are the focus of City Paper reporting. Are you at all worried that this could influence the paper's coverage of some of these important issues?
JONES: I think - like I said, we (laughter) found out last night. All I know right now is that it is nice for us to see that there are people across D.C. who appreciate the work that City Paper does. How it will affect us going forward, I don't know. We've been told that it will be relatively hands-off from Mark Ein's perspective, and I would guess that that's sort of going to be the same way going forward with that group.
SHAPIRO: Do you think this is a model that can give other alt weeklies in the United States hope?
JONES: I don't know. I would hope so. I would hope that this would be an example that maybe philanthropists or business owners in other cities would hope to breathe some life into local news in other cities that don't have this kind of reporting that's really important to the people who live there.
SHAPIRO: Does being bought by a philanthropist as opposed to an investment firm show that there (laughter) really isn't potential for these kinds of publications to be profitable? As valuable as they may be, you need somebody who wants to do a charitable act rather than somebody who wants to make money.
JONES: Oh, I don't necessarily think that's true. I think that Mark Ein, who bought Washington City Paper, like, calls himself a philanthropist. But he's also a venture capitalist. And I think he acted on this as a business, not as a charitable act.
SHAPIRO: Caroline Jones, managing editor of the Washington City Paper, thanks for coming into the studio. And congratulations on the paper's new lease on life.
JONES: Thank you.
(SOUNDBITE OF THAO AND THE GET DOWN STAY DOWN'S "TROUBLE WAS FOR") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.