City Paper, Philadelphia’s feisty alternative weekly newspaper, will cease its print publication as of Oct. 8.
News of the prize-winning paper’s demise came as a surprise this afternoon to the publication’s editors and staff writers.
“Our Web traffic has been steadily increasing and we’ve been doing good work,” said City Paper senior staff writer Emily Guendelsberger. “But I didn’t see this coming at all.”
City Paper editor Lillian Swanson declined to comment.
“I’m in shock as is everyone here,” she said in an email to Philly.com.
City Paper’s website operations will be consolidated with philadelphiaweekly.com, which until today had been City Paper’s primary competitor.
Broad Street Media LLC, of Cherry Hill, released a statement today that said it had “acquired the intellectual property rights” to City Paper from SB New York Inc, which also owns Metro. Broad Street Media is a partner with R.P.M Philly, which owns Philadelphia Weekly.
“While we respect the history Philadelphia has with City Paper, we have made a commitment to Philly Weekly that we intend to honor. It doesn’t make sense for us to compete with ourselves,” said Broad Street Media’s publisher Perry Corsetti. “We’re excited to welcome City Paper readers to Philly Weekly as we continue to grow and improve the publication.”
Philly Weekly's editor, Stephen Segal, tweeted Wednesday that he was leaving the publication.
City Paper was founded in 1981 by Bruce Schimmel, who initially published it monthly from his house in Mount Airy. In a 1991 profile in the Inquirer, Schimmel said that from the start he had envisioned a freewheeling weekly that would “break a lot of rules, and innovate and change things.”
“We did things that seemed right at the time,” Schimmel said today in an interview. “It was by and for people who felt strongly about political causes and artistic movements. Politics and arts at the time, as we envisioned it, were two sides of the same coin. They reinforced one another.”
After spearheading a then-novel effort in 1996 to publish all of City Paper’s content on the Internet, Schimmel saw the writing on the wall and sold the paper to the Rock family.
“We were one of the first to go entirely online,” Schimmel said. “I remember thinking, ‘There really isn’t money online.’ You couldn’t raise enough funds. Google and Craigslist were able to deliver an audience for a whole lot less.”
Schimmel said he was proud of the work that editor Lillian Swanson and her staff had accomplished in recent years.
"Lillian did a super job and the people there were really dedicated," Schimmel said. "But paper doesn't cut it anymore. You just can't make any money."
The paper, which in 1996 had 300,000 readers, saw circulation slip to about 55,600 in June 2014, according to news industry analysts at Verified Audit Circulation. Philadelphia Weekly last reported circulation of about 72,000 to Verified in June 2013.
City Paper earned accolades for its relentless investigations and in-depth reporting. Last year, it was named “most outstanding” news weekly by the Pennsylvania NewsMedia Association and won first place at the Keystone Press Awards in its circulation category for investigative reporting, feature writing and beat reporting.
"It's heartbreaking," said Daniel Denvir, a multiple-award winner who covered criminal justice and public education for City Paper until this past spring. "Alt-weeklies everywhere are in a death spiral. And that death spiral has now consumed the City Paper, the last legit alt-weekly standing in the city. It leaves an enormous hole in the news ecosystem."
Howard Altman, an editor at the City Paper from 1993 to 2004, recounted the power the paper once wielded.
"[W]e did some amazing work, helped put a few deserving folks behind bars, shined light where it was needed and played a key role in the important discussions of the day," he wrote in an email.
"No politician could run for office, either in Philly or statewide, without stopping by for lunch at the office. Usually it was Bitars, (once a gubernatorial candidate named Rendell could be heard scraping the humus out of the bowl with his finger). But one time, in honor of the fact that he kept avoiding us, we served Bob Casey duck," said Altman, now senior writer on military affairs for the Tampa Tribune,
"Beyond news and politics, the paper was a must-read for its tremendous arts and culture coverage, which brought Philly the Fringe Festival and upon which many a production or exhibit lived or died.
"Sadly, this is just the latest in a long line of publications to cease existing," Altman said. "And each time it happens, it is a dark day for journalism, but a darker day for democracy."
Inquirer staff writer Harold Brubaker contributed to this report.