The Star Tribune agreed Wednesday to buy City Pages, a deal that creates an uncommon coupling of the biggest alternative weekly in the Twin Cities and Minnesota’s largest news organization.
In buying the publication from Voice Media Group, the Star Tribune Media Co. said it would stop publishing Vita.mn, a website and weekly tabloid that refashioned the Star Tribune’s entertainment coverage into formats that directly competed with City Pages for readers and advertisers.
After Vita.mn’s final edition next week, City Pages will become the last weekly of its kind in the metro area. In recent years, competitors such as the Rake, Metromix and the local version of the Onion ceased publishing.
City Pages continued to draw more advertising than Vita.mn, and its news pages are less formal in tone and quicker to throw an elbow, often enough at the Star Tribune.
“We have tremendous respect for the loyal, passionate audience and market position that the talented City Pages staff has built through hard work over many years,” Mike Klingensmith, chief executive of Star Tribune Media and publisher of the Star Tribune, said in a statement. “We think the publication and its digital properties can capitalize on being part of a larger, local media company to create an even stronger City Pages.”
City Pages will continue to run independently of the Star Tribune newspaper and website, and City Pages Publisher Mary Erickson and Editor Pete Kotz will continue to lead its staff. Two people at City Pages, a blogger and a page designer, were laid off in the transaction. A few Star Tribune staffers may be transferred to City Pages in coming weeks.
Terms of the deal were not disclosed. The purchase is expected to close in a few weeks and will be paid for through operating cash flow, said Steve Yaeger, vice president of marketing for Star Tribune. “The acquisition will give us a larger footprint in our home market and allow us to grow our audience and our advertising revenue,” he said.
The Star Tribune becomes the third major metropolitan daily to buy an alternative weekly. In 2012, the owner of the Chicago Sun-Times bought the Chicago Reader and, last year, the Baltimore Sun bought the Baltimore City Paper.
Like other print publications, alternative weeklies have grappled with declining print advertising while incurring the cost of investing in digital publishing via the Web and mobile devices. The weeklies tend to draw advertising from a greater number of small businesses than large metro dailies, which charge more for advertising.
In this case, City Pages’ readership also skews younger and more female than the Star Tribune’s. The weekly says it reaches 361,000 readers a month in print and records 1.3 million unique visits a month to its website. By contrast, the Star Tribune’s weekday circulation is about 300,000 and its website gets more than 7 million unique visits a month.
As a result of the deal, City Pages news employees will come under the representation of the Minnesota Newspaper and Communications Guild, which also covers journalists at the Star Tribune and St. Paul Pioneer Press. In a statement, the guild said it welcomed the transaction and will make sure its contract with Star Tribune Media is applied correctly.
The transaction is the latest step by Denver-based Voice Media to move on from its portfolio of alternative weeklies, some of which it has owned since the 1990s.
The firm in January said it was considering the sale of its publications, which include the Village Voice in New York, New Times in Phoenix and the Dallas Observer. In March, it sold the Riverfront Times, the alternative weekly in St. Louis, to Euclid Media Group, a Cleveland firm that owns weeklies in Cleveland, Detroit, San Antonio and Orlando.
Star Tribune Media, after experiencing a bankruptcy restructuring in 2009 and revenue declines for about a decade, has seen marginal revenue growth and operating profits in the past two years. The company last year was acquired by Mankato businessman Glen Taylor, who also owns Taylor Corp. and the Timberwolves and Lynx pro basketball teams.
City Pages began in 1979 as a music-oriented publication called Sweet Potato. It was renamed City Pages in 1981 when it became a news and entertainment weekly.
Star Tribune executives say they’ll keep their hands off City Pages’ news coverage of the Twin Cities, including of the Star Tribune.
“Whenever you get a new owner, you’re hoping for a good and gracious one,” said Kotz, the City Pages editor. “I think this is the best outcome.”