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More pain at City Pages

City Pages' parent Village Voice Media isn't sparing top managers in recent budget-cutting.

According to a memo reprinted by CP's Denver sibling Westword, "VVM Publishers and Editors are taking 10% pay reductions until our revenues begin to grow again."

This nails CP publisher Mark Bartel and editor Kevin Hoffman, who confirmed the hit to his pocketbook. Just last week, Hoffman had to lay off two staffers; mnartists.org's Susannah Schouweiler adds that CP theater critic Quinton Skinner's weekly reviews will be reduced to bi-weekly.

"I agreed with pretty much everything on that mnartists blog about what a loss it is," says Hoffman of Skinner. "The problem is the economics."

In the good news department, CP will replace departed reporter Beth Walton with David Hansen, a music freelancer and blogger who wrote the T.D. Mischke feature in November and did some nice reporting after Mischke was fired. Hoffman says Hansen will cover news and arts, contributing ten print features a year and three posts a day to the Gimme Noise music blog.

As for context on VVM's future, Hoffman recommended I read a piece from his colleague Bob Norman at the Broward-Palm Beach New Times. In a bracingly honest analysis, Norman notes VVM is "fleeing to the Internet," calling it "a rather risky strategy" (though one written on the wall long ago).

Adds Norman, "I don't write for a newspaper anymore, but a 'web platform with a print piece.'"

The Floridian contends "staff writers still spend the vast majority of their time writing those cover stories that make NT unique," though I'm skeptical that will last long, given the web's relative long-form intolerance and the growing pressure to blog. For example, Walton was an infrequent blogger, but Hansen will be responsible for 15 posts per week.

Is this a journalism death sentence? Not necessarily. In my year at MinnPost, I've gone from longer-form to mostly newsblogging (with a long-form option) and like the change. The trick is maintaining a commitment to reporting — which can really screw up meeting a blog quota. Unless you're excellent at entertaining, reporting (and analysis that springs from it) is your comparative advantage.

CP will have to execute with fewer bodies, and the danger for any of us is we fall beneath critical mass. So is this the end of the bleeding at our local alt-weekly? The VVM memo is cagey, "We hope that these measures will be the last steps we have to take until our business improves, however will continue to be watchful as 2009 progresses."

Here's the full text, from CEO Jim Larkin and executive editor Michael Lacey:

December 31, 2008

To all Village Voice staffers:

It's no secret that the chickens have come home to roost from the George Bush economy of the past eight years. We have all felt the downturn at Village Voice Media operations and, as you know, have been trimming expenses since December of 2007

Unfortunately, this year we have found it necessary to make staff reductions and have placed all staff openings on hold.

We are also going to take these additional measures effective January 1, 2009:

1) All VVM senior managers and officers, including Larkin and Lacey, are taking 15% pay reductions.

2) VVM Publishers and Editors are taking 10% pay reductions until our revenues begin to grow again.

3) We will suspend the Village Voice Media match into our 401-K plan. The plan will still remain open and we urge you to take advantage of the tax deferred personal savings advantages.

We hope that these measures will be the last steps we have to take until our business improves, however will continue to be watchful as 2009 progresses.

We believe in our local publishing and local digital businesses. It is our conclusion that the downturn in weekly publishing is largely cyclical and that as daily newspapers continue their decline, we will have numerous publishing opportunities in the markets we serve.

Many of you know that Village Voice Media digital businesses are growing and expanding quickly. As this current economic nightmare ends, Village Voice Media will be well positioned for the future in both digital and print.

We have navigated tough times before and although this seems the roughest stretch we've ever seen, we are confident that the content Village Voice Media operations produce and market daily will carry the day in whatever format the future might serve, print or digital.

We appreciate the effort each of you make to insure our success every day. Should you have any comments or questions please feel free to contact your publisher or either of us below.

Thank you,

Jim Larkin
Michael Lacey

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Comments (1)

The migration to the internet may be comfortable, and I'm glad you like the change - I like having you around! But we still don't have a long-term business model for that, either.

I have quite a few ideas for developing one, but what I find amazing is that newspaper people haven't been willing to think outside of the box very much. My blog (link above) has a few of my latest musings on what the problem really is - and it's not about newspapers.

Who will develop the new model? I made a stab at it once as allsaintpaul.com, but I didn't have the content to make it work. I'll need help to take a second try.