The Baltimore Sun Media Group announced Thursday that it is buying the alternative weekly City Paper for an undisclosed price, bringing the city’s two most recognizable print journalism outlets under the same roof.
City Paper will remain independent from the group’s other outlets with a separate newsroom and sales team, said Timothy E. Ryan, publisher, president and CEO of Baltimore Sun Media Group.
“This represents a great opportunity to add another successful media property to our portfolio,” Ryan said in a statement. “We want the paper to remain a valued alternative, independent voice in Baltimore. That’s what made it attractive to us — it’s adding a unique population of readers to our overall audience.”
BSMG is buying City Paper from Times-Shamrock Communications, which put the 37-year-old weekly on the block last summer. The deal for the free tabloid is set to close in early March. City Paper circulates 50,000 papers every Wednesday and draws 200,000 unique monthly visitors to its website.
The acquisition marks BSMG’s first significant purchase since 1997, when it acquired Patuxent Publishing Co.'s stable of community publications in this region. In addition to the 177-year-old Baltimore Sun, BSMG operates dozens of weekly newspapers, magazines and websites, and reaches more than 1.1 million readers a week. The acquisition would not affect the operation of b, the Sun’s free weekly young-reader publication, Sun officials said.
BSMG is owned by Tribune Co., which is in the process of spinning off its print portfolio, including the Los Angeles Times and the Chicago Tribune, into a new company.
Some City Paper jobs may be lost as its operations are integrated into BSMG and it moves into The Sun’s building on North Calvert Street.
All two dozen or so City Paper employees will lose their Times-Shamrock jobs at the start of March, said Scott Lynett, CEO of the Scranton, Pa.-based media company. Those who do not receive job offers from BSMG will be given severance pay, he added.
Lynett called the purchase a “great strategic move” for BSMG. He said the company participated in “a competitive bidding process” for City Paper, but declined to say who else bid.
Times-Shamrock has said City Paper is profitable, but all media outlets face the challenge of eroding advertising revenue in an age of increasing marketing options and social media.
With advertising revenue increasingly difficult to come by, said Ken Doctor, a media analyst and founder of Newsonomics, consolidations can protect value at niche outlets like the City Paper while trimming overhead.
Many alternative publications have been pinched worse than mainstream daily newspapers.
Tiffany Shackelford, executive director of the Association of Alternative Newsmedia, said alternative weeklies, if allowed to keep their voice, can gain from the resources of major media organizations.
“In the past it was sort of an ‘us against them’ sort of feeling, with the alts versus the dailies, but let’s be honest: In this day and age, with what’s going on in the media, we need to all be in this together,” Shackelford said.
City Paper senior editor Baynard Woods said it was “kind of nice” to finally have a direction after months of the paper being on the market. But there is also a “somberness,” he said, as employees were told during a morning briefing Thursday that some jobs “will definitely not be necessary under The Sun's ownership.”
BSMG named Jennifer Marsh as City Paper's general manager. Marsh began her career as an editoral intern at the City Paper and held its top leadership role in 2011. She joined the Sun in 2013 as niche products director.
Shackelford, of the alternative media association, said that while some big media groups buy alternative weeklies and change their voice, others keep them independent.
“To be frank with you, Baltimore has that sort of alternative sensibility. It has John Waters, it’s sort of the grittiest of Northeast cities, it has Hon Fest,” Shackelford said. “It would seem like a very bad call if [BSMG] tried to remove one of the vehicles that really speaks to locals in a very unique way.”
Such pledges of independence can be difficult to maintain, Doctor said.
“It’s very hard once ownership switches for a company to have two distinct voices,” he said.
Lynett applauded BSMG’s plan to retain City Paper’s independence.
“They understand the continued success of the City Paper franchise is maintaining that independent voice,” he said. “It’s not only a smart decision for journalism, it’s a smart business decision.”
The year of Baltimore Sun Media Group's acquisition of Patuxent Publishing was incorrect in an earlier version of this article. The Sun regrets the error.