The Seattle Weekly published a story last week about the possible merger between its parent company, Village Voice Media (VVM), which owns 6 papers, and a larger media chain, New Times, which owns 11. At a first glance, the Weekly story seemed pretty straightforward. They reported the basics: New Times and its investors, which include a Boston-based media investment firm called Alta Communications, will control the board, while the Weekly's parent, VVM, and the investment bankers that control it, will have a minority ownership of the company.
But rather than asking the questions you'd think would be of paramount interest to Seattle Weekly readers—for example, what does it mean for the Seattle Weekly that the New Times chain may take it over?—the only issue the Weekly story raised about the deal focused on... The Stranger. They wrote: "In Seattle, aggressive tactics by a merged company controlled by New Times could be trouble for The Stranger, the smaller, locally controlled weekly here."
This isn't the first time the Weekly has predicted doom for The Stranger after a larger company bought up our competition: The same thing happened in 1997, when the Weekly was purchased by Stern Publishing, which owned the Village Voice. The result? The "endangered" Stranger grew and became more relevant while the Weekly started to slip. Before the Stern buyout, the Weekly averaged 37 pages larger per week than The Stranger. By 2000, three years later, the Weekly averaged only 10 pages larger per week than The Stranger.
In 2000, the Weekly got bought out a second time, when Stern sold his papers to VVM and its investment bankers, including Goldman Sachs and Weiss Peck & Greer. (Goldman Sachs is a huge contributor to George W. Bush, by the way.) The result? The "endangered" Stranger grew even more and the Seattle Weekly continued its decline. Today, the Weekly averages 7 pages smaller than The Stranger. Hey, check out last week's papers, when the city's biggest community event, Bumbershoot, fueled a 156-page Stranger and a 112-page Weekly. Every time a larger company has gobbled up the Weekly and tried to prop it up, The Stranger has emerged stronger than before.
If anything, the Weekly should be raising questions about what the pending deal could mean for its editorial staff. When New Times takes over a paper, such as the SF Weekly in 1995, it typically cleans house—firing staffers wholesale, imposing a cookie-cutter design, and taking away staffers' editorial autonomy. And its cantankerous Libertarian political posture is diametrically opposed to that of predictably liberal alt-weeklies like Seattle Weekly. Seattle Weekly did not return our call for this story.
New Times executive editor, Mike Lacey, described the chain's political philosophy thus: "If it is political, we are against it, meaning that we are skeptical of political movements and politicians. Liberals, moderates, conservatives, and radicals don't get excused from that." Stories are usually shorter and have a more conservative bent; and New Times papers, unlike the Weekly, do not endorse candidates or run editorials.
A merger with New Times raises far more questions for the Weekly than it does for the locally owned Stranger, and those are the questions the Weekly should be asking on behalf of its firstname.lastname@example.org