City Pages, RT Rybak featured in New York Times

David Carr reaches back to his days as a Minneapolis alternative weekly editor in today's issue of the New York Times, calling on Mayor RT Rybak for an assist.

Carr's column revives the age-old rivalry between the Twin Cities Reader and City Pages. Back then, Rybak was the publisher of the Reader, and he made a bold decision to eschew sex ads, which had long been a staple of alternative weeklies.

Here's the part of the column that deals with Twin Cities media history:

It reminds me a great deal of the early 1990s, when I was the editor of The Twin Cities Reader, an alternative weekly in Minneapolis. At the time, we were under fire for publishing ads for strip clubs, escort services and massage parlors. The staff and the publisher at the time, R. T. Rybak, were keenly attuned to the community and always looking for points of difference from City Pages, our weekly competitor. With support from the staff, Mr. Rybak announced that we would no longer take ads that "objectified" women, a bold move. It was thought that beyond the good will we earned in the community, other, nonracy advertisers might find our paper to be a more suitable platform.

Our critics, including many women's groups, were thrilled at their victory and congratulated us on our sensitivity. The policy went into effect, wiping out, as I recall, about 15 percent of the bottom line. City Pages left its ad policy unchanged. Some of what we lost went to them and little in the way of new ads materialized to fill the hole.

RT Rybak was once publisher of Twin Cities Reader.EXPAND
RT Rybak was once publisher of Twin Cities Reader.

City Pages eventually became the dominant paper -- in part because it was very good and run by smart people -- and when, yes, Village Voice Media decided to enter the market, it bought both papers and closed The Twin Cities Reader. I was gone by then, but I thought the decision to be selective about ads contributed to its demise.

I called Mr. Rybak, who is now the mayor of Minneapolis, to ask if he regretted the decision.

"It was absolutely the right move," he said. "When you engage in a certain kind of journalism that is designed to be an alternative to the mainstream, you have a special obligation to have your editorial, your values and your advertising align."

"If we had more time, I think it may have worked out," he said. "But I often think about what would have happened if we had those two pages of ads in the back. Would the paper still be around? It wasn't the only reason it went out of business, but it played a role."

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