City Paper will cease publication next Thursday

City Paper's decline in the face of increasing digital competition happened despite an aggressive approach to the Internet. (MICHAEL KLEIN/Philly.com)

THE HEADLINE read: Philadelphia City Paper to stop existing. And beneath it last night on the alternative weekly's website: We were surprised, too.

Yesterday, Broad Street Media LLC, which also owns the Northeast Times and the South Philly Review, bought the Philadelphia City Paper from Metro Corp. and said the weekly would cease publication next Thursday and some content would appear in longtime competitor Philly Weekly.

"While we respect the history Philadelphia has with City Paper, we have made a commitment to Philly Weekly that we intend to honor," Broad Street Media publisher Perry Corsetti said in a statement. "It doesn't make sense for us to compete with ourselves."

Apparently, the company also thought it didn't make sense to inform City Paper staff of the new developments.

"We first heard about it via Broad Street Media's press release," City Paper's online article says. "That was brought to our attention when people from other newspapers started calling us for comment or friends started texting their condolences."

Others with ties to the publication said they were less surprised, given the continuing economic decline of print newspapers.

"It's not sudden - it's just sad," said City Paper founder Bruce Schimmel, now retired and living in Milton, Del.

Schimmel started the paper in 1981, joining a proud tradition of Philadelphia alternative weeklies dating back to Benjamin Franklin's 18th-century Pennsylvania Gazette.

"When City Paper was rocking and rolling, we were holding people's feet to the fire," said former editor in chief Howard Altman, now a reporter with the Tampa Tribune in Florida.

And readers were following right along. Circulation numbers were over 300,000 at the paper's height in the 1990s, Schimmel said. That number has dropped to 55,000, according to the Broad Street Media statement.

"Any time a politician was running for office, they had to stop by our office," Altman said, recalling that the paper jokingly served former Gov. Bob Casey duck at lunch after he had been continually "ducking" a reporter for an interview.

While accumulating an impressive record of accolades - 11 Keystone Press Awards this year, on the heels of 15 in 2014 - City Paper never strayed from its feisty, alternative image:

A 2013 cover story by Dan McQuade, "Fifty Shades of Orange," described the growth of fan-written erotica about Philadelphia Flyers players. In the column "Ask Papa" - a literary twist on "Dear Abby" - writer Alli Katz answered reader questions by channeling the wisdom of Ernest Hemingway.

"It was like central casting of your little group of Bohemians putting out a weekly newspaper," said novelist and former City Paper freelancer Scott Huler. He said one of his fondest memories at the weekly is his June 1999 cover story, "Waxing My Girl."

City Paper's decline in the face of increasing digital competition happened despite an aggressive approach to the Internet. Before he sold the paper in 1996, Schimmel put all of its content online.

"The people who put us in business put us out of business," Schimmel said of the digital audience.

Schimmel and Altman both laid a large portion of blame on Craigslist, which took away print newspapers' key source of revenue: classified ads.

"All of our peers are on their way to dying or dead," Schimmel said.

But City Paper isn't going out without the last laugh. Its online article about its Oct. 8 demise appeared alongside a flier found on the street by a staffer. It said:

October 7, 2015, will be the end of the world.

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