BY NOW, IF you pay any attention at all to the dailies, you know that City Pages is being purchased by Stern Publishing, the New York-based media company that owns the Village Voice and the LA Weekly. The change looks to be about as bump-free as such things can be. Publishers Tom Bartel and Kris Henning will stay on to manage the paper, and the staff will remain in place. A similar arrangement obtains at the LA Weekly, which Stern acquired a couple of years ago. I think nearly everyone here mourns at some level the passing of CP's days as a completely independent entity, but the mood here is good. Visions of plenty--more national ads, more pages, complimentary Village Voice sweatshirts and coffee mugs--dance round our heads.
This all started late last year when American Cities Business Journals placed the Twin Cities Reader up for sale. Obviously any media company looking at the Twin Cities would prefer to control the whole market, so the announcement effectively put both papers in play. Up until the Voice deal was announced last week, the only name bandied about much was that of the Phoenix-based New Times group, which has been rumored to be the main (if not the only) suitor for the Reader. For years it's been no secret that New Times had its eye on Minneapolis. The NT outfit--which already owns weeklies in Phoenix, Denver, Miami, Dallas, Houston, San Francisco, and Los Angeles--has said it wants to be in all of the top 15 U.S. markets eventually; and Minneapolis/St. Paul, though it ranks near the bottom of that list, is one of the most desirable spots in the country now owing to its growth rate, its relative affluence, and the potential for ad revenue growth in the weekly press.
New Times may or may not choose to go ahead and enter the fray locally now that Stern has bought City Pages. They are already fighting hard, and so far losing, battles in Los Angeles and San Francisco; they are said to be highly leveraged; and they are probably casting one eye toward Seattle, another very lucrative market where the number one weekly is on the block. A staffer at Seattle Weekly recently phoned someone here at CP to ask whether we'd heard anything about their situation. We hadn't, but the person said that both New Times and Stern were being named as likely bidders.
What lies ahead locally remains in doubt. It seems likely that either New Times or Stern will eventually purchase the Reader. Neither prospect bodes well for the present cast of characters. New Times has a reputation for sacking entire staffs, or close to it, and the Voice probably would not consider it prudent to operate two competing weeklies in the same market. A local buyer could yet emerge, but the likeliest suspect, Citizen Opperman, apparently has not risen to the bait. On to the new era, then.
BUT AREN'T YOU upset about the concentration of media ownership? some friends have asked. Yes and no. I tend to vote with Noam Chomsky on the subject of media monopolies: They don't have a great deal of impact on the quality of news reporting, which in most cases is wretched before and wretched after. But I am tired of that word synergy and all its manifestations, from the rodent that regularly accosts ABC viewers to the one that graces the cover of the most recent Mpls./St. Paul magazine. The cover piece, a fawning profile of Skip Humphrey, was secreted by local journalism's Dean of Unction, William Souder; it just so happens that the grand poobah of Skipper's gubernatorial committee is also the new owner of Mpls./St. Paul, the aforementioned Citizen Opperman. Sources at the magazine assure Monika Bauerlein the piece was in the works long before C.O. took over. There's no such thing as conflicts of interest anymore, only synchronicities waiting to happen.
FOLLOWING THE WRAP party for OJ II: This Time We Win, Geraldo Rivera announced that he will decamp to Boulder to cover the most recent crime of the century, the JonBenet Ramsey murder. It's been comical to follow the coverage of the case and to see the absurd lengths to which reporters go to avoid the obvious inference that Daddy Ramsey (the founder of a company that took in a billion dollars in revenue last year) is the chief suspect. Even last week, after the Boulder D.A. dropped broad hints to that effect in an apparent effort to discombobulate John Ramsey, Denver media continued to tiptoe. Contrast it to the treatment accorded that poor schlub Richard Jewell.
Police and prosecutors probably will never secure a conviction, thanks again to the dictates of class. When cops were first called to the Ramsey mansion, they failed to follow the usual procedure for such cases, which is to give the house a thorough search; instead they trod lightly, mindful of the prerogatives of wealth. Consequently the little girl's body was not discovered in the wine cellar until her father brought it upstairs hours later, hopelessly contaminating the crime scene in the process. To try to recover lost ground, the prosecution has had to resort to the unusual step of calling in two premier hired guns who worked for O.J.'s defense team, criminalist Henry Lee and DNA expert Barry Scheck. All considered, it does make a nice bookend to the Simpson case. O.J. conflated matters of class, race, and celebrity; this time the spotlight is on class alone.
A footnote, ironic or not: The Ramseys' hired PR gun, Pat Korten, once worked as a flak at the Reagan State Department, where his duties included lying to the press about the first wave of Contra cocaine allegations in the mid-1980s.
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