"I had a great morning today," says Los Angeles CityBeat publisher Will Swaim. "I came to work and hurled in the 'executive bathroom,' brushed my teeth and made the announcement."
The announcement that Swaim made to his small staff was that the issue they had just put out would be the alternative weekly's last. After about half a year of swimming in red ink, owner Southland Publishing Inc. and its president, Bruce Bolkin, had decided to pull the plug. Although there had been no official omens about the paper's closing, Swaim had had a gut feeling about the future and called Bolkin Thursday night to have his suspicions confirmed or allayed. That's when he learned about the paper's fate.
"Of course I'm going to second guess them," Swaim says. "But they
simply have lost a lot of money and felt uncertain about the future."
Senior editor Matt Fleischer agrees that there had been no official talk about a possible closing, but noted that CityBeat's
four editors had been working on a weekly budget of $1,300 --
starvation rations that had to cover fees for freelance writers, art
work and the paper's freelanced copy editing service.
"We heard that there were plans to cut that to $600," Fleischer says, "but they decided to close the paper down instead."
Fleischer says that, ironically, this week was the first time CityBeat had
broken even on its balance sheet. Swaim believes that small suggestion
of a turnaround would not have been enough to reverse a decision that,
he believes, had been made a while ago by the paper's owners.
"They weren't going to let one week change their minds," he says.
"With something like that you have to be firm -- you can't fire the gun
and then try to get the bullet back."
Both Fleischer and Swaim, who'd been lured away as founding editor-publisher of Long Beach's The District Weekly for the offer of a minimum one-year gig at CityBeat, said there had been no discussions to change CityBeat to a biweekly or to make it online-only.
"We would've had to let a lot of people go," he says of those
options. "You can't make as much money selling online ads as in print,
and changing publishing frequency changes the kind of ads you get."
CityBeat was created in 2004 as the result of a 2003 federal
anti-trust settlement between the Justice Department and two
alternative newspaper chains, Village Voice Media and New Times Inc. In
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2006 the latter two companies merged and retained the name Village
Voice Media, which owns the L.A. Weekly. Los Angeles CityBeat shares a large office space in a Mid-Wilshire Art Deco building with Life After 50, another of Southland Publishing Inc.'s 10 periodicals.
"The building is far too lavish for an alt-weekly," muses Swaim, who says he has no plans for the immediate future.
[See Bruce Bolkin memo to staff, via L.A. Observed]