We reported last week that Cleveland lost the Free Times and LA lost the New Times in an agreement between competitors. Plain Dealer columnist Tom Feran has more on the story:
- In most places, newspaper wars have become an anachronism. Afternoon dailies and “second papers” folded at an alarming rate through the 1970s and ’80s, mostly falling victim to changing habits and lifestyles, fragmented ad markets and TV. In most places, a single major daily survived, and the door opened wider for alternative papers – increasingly polished and professional weeklies with roots in the “counterculture” and “underground” papers of the ’60s. Cleveland has had a bunch, going back to D.A. Levy’s Buddhist Third Class Junkmail Oracle and the Great Swamp Erie da da Boom.
For the past decade, the city has had two: The Scene, started as an entertainment weekly in 1970, and the Free Times, launched in 1992 by Richard Siegel, the late activist lawyer, from the ashes of Bill Gunlocke’s Cleveland Edition, which lasted eight years.
It only takes two to tangle, and in the newspaper business that means war. The Free Times and Scene fought for readers and advertisers in a clash that ended up showing how much the alternative press has come to resemble bigger, more traditional media.
The Free Times, in the end, was owned by New York-based Village Voice Media, which has six other weeklies. The Scene is owned by Phoenix-based New Times Inc., which had 11. They’re the nation’s biggest chains of weeklies. They eventually could be one, echoing the consolidation of other media.
They competed directly only in Cleveland, where both lost money, and in Los Angeles, where the Voice’s older LA Weekly was battering New Times.
The Free Times didn’t lose the war in Cleveland, but Scene won. The owners cut their losses and carved up the territory. New Times got a reported $8 million and the Cleveland market, while ceding the ad-rich Los Angeles market to the Voice.
“I suspected we were being sold,” Eden said. “We were sold down the river. It was a big surprise. As a business deal, it makes sense. For journalists, it’s a terrible thing. It was a great company to work for as an editor, there was total editorial freedom and no interference with anything. But then they killed the paper. I think it’s a turning point for alternative media.”
Breaking even was in sight, he said. Free Times claimed the lead in readers, advertisers and pages.
“There was real momentum,” he said. “The Free Times was in the tradition of what a real alternative weekly is. It wasn’t afraid to take shots at Cleveland’s rich and powerful.”
He thinks the war will be rejoined, and not only because he has talked with Kucinich about possible antitrust action against the weekly chains.
“I think it’s extremely likely, sooner rather than later, a paper in the tradition of Free Times will appear,” he said. “The outpouring has been incredible. Cleveland is unique.”
For now, Eden is hanging on to the entries in the portrait contest entries. “If there’s a Son of Free Times,” he said, “maybe we’ll have a winner in that.”
I’d guess later rather than sooner – what’s the motivation?