The company that owns CityBeat picked a strange time to expand—the early part of the current decade. Prior to 2001, it had owned just one paper in Southern California, the Ventura County Reporter. It now publishes five weeklies and several glossy monthlies in a time of great upheaval in the print-publication business.
As we all know, the Internet has changed everything. Large dailies are feeling it big-time, as is evident here in San Diego, where the Union-Tribune is downsizing its print side in a hurry while leaving its online product, SignOnSanDiego, alone—at least in the latest round of employee cuts.
Large alternative weeklies have also been hurt, as Richard Karpel, executive director of the Association of Alternative Newsweeklies, told me last week. He noted that the emergence of craigslist has ravaged the bottom line of larger papers that have traditionally done big business in classified ads. A few weeks ago, the company that recently purchased the Chicago Reader and the Washington City Paper, announced a round of editorial-staff layoffs at those papers. Slumping ad revenue was partly to blame, but The new owner borrowed a lot of money to buy those papers, so that debt also played a role.
Our business is struggling to figure out how to survive a massive, sudden shift to online publication. All sectors of media—print, radio, TV—are losing advertisers to the Internet. Advertising budgets are not decreasing, but they are being spread more thinly across an expanding media landscape. Generally speaking, most media haven't figured out how to make money on the Internet. Karpel noted that about 10 times as many people read the The New York Times online than read the print version. Yet the Times derives only about 10 percent of its revenue online. Daily and weekly papers alike are being forced to accommodate this transitioning readership by beefing up online offerings, at a significant cost, while still maintaining their print products, which is where they make their money.
CityBeat did that this year. We spent some money in an attempt to improve our website, with admittedly mixed results. One silver lining in the increase in human hours it's taking to produce our site (mostly in time spent entering event listings) is that, as a result, we've added calendar editor Todd Kroviak, which will allow our secret weapon, arts editor Kinsee Morlan, to do more of what she does best: serve as one of San Diego's top trend spotters in the world of arts and culture.
CityBeat's editorial staff has held relatively steady throughout its five years in business, but we suffered two significant losses at the tail end of this year. One of our originals, music editor Troy Johnson, grew weary of covering the local music scene and moved on to Riviera magazine. But we lucked out and found Nathan Dinsdale, who's already shown the creative chops necessary to follow Troy's act. We also lost one of the best feature writers we've ever had, longtime staffer Kia Momtazi, who's going to become an organic farmer in Chiapas, Mexico, or some such nonsense. She's been gone for less than a week, and I already miss her. On the bright side, excellent contributor AnnaMaria Stephens is helping make up for Kia's departure in a big way.
In addition to beefing up our arts and culture offerings, I'm pleased to announce the return of—cue the trumpets—politics writer John R. Lamb, whose column, “Spin Cycle,” will make its triumphant new beginning in next week's issue—and I. Can't. Wait. John's wonderfully snarky column, which will run every other week, will come just as the 2008 elections for mayor, city attorney and City Council start to heat up. Woo-hoo!
John joined CityBeat's staff almost immediately after its launch in 2002 and wrote for the paper for two years, but he was a victim of editorial cutbacks, which resulted from the paper being a little too ambitious at the start. We're grateful that he's taking us back.
CityBeat is most certainly not rolling in money—unlike the San Diego Reader, which, considering the amount of money that thing rakes in, should be journalistically blowing the lid off San Diego on a regular basis. Our sales team faces a Herculean challenge every week. But I'm happy to report that we're doing much better than we were in 2004.So, amid these uncertain times in the newspaper business, we'll continue to home in on our niches in the local market: progressive-populist opinion, smart magazine-style writing and edgy cultural coverage. Your job is to let us know how we can get better. Thanks for reading.