The local owners of the Chicago Reader, an alternative weekly newspaper that combines long cover stories with comprehensive entertainment and cultural listings, said Tuesday they have sold the publication to a Tampa-based publisher.
The deal with Creative Loafing Inc., a chain of four alternative weeklies, caught Reader staff members by surprise. The paper has enjoyed stable ownership since it was started in 1971, and several of its 10 shareholders, including co-founder Bob Roth, worked in management.
But Roth, president of the company, acknowledged several factors made the timing right for an ownership change, including the uncertain future facing all types of newspapers.
Roth, 60, also said several of the Reader's owner-managers were contemplating retirement when Creative Loafing's Chief Executive Ben Eason approached the company.
"I think Ben Eason has a better idea of how to fix our company than we do," Roth said. "I think the company needs a more energetic management."
Terms of the sale, which includes the Reader's sister paper in Washington, D.C., and the syndicated column "Straight Dope," were not disclosed.
Alternative weeklies have not been immune to the economic forces that have challenged the newspaper industry in recent years. They face a steady decline of readers and advertisers. Free classified advertisements on the Internet, such as on Craigslist, have hit free weeklies especially hard because the weeklies tend to rely more on such listings for revenue than mainstream dailies, said newspaper analyst John Morton.
The weeklies also face new competition. Mainstream newspapers such as the Chicago Tribune have launched free daily tabloids filled with entertainment listings and ads for bars and nightclubs aimed at the same young-adult audience.
The Reader's circulation stands at about 117,000 copies weekly, Roth said, down from about 133,000 in 2002. It also distributes about 18,000 copies of a condensed edition in the suburbs.
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