Citing soft ad sales, City Pages owner Village Voice Media cut a third of Minneapolis-based alt-weekly’s staff writer positions, editor Kevin Hoffman confirms. Food writer Rachel Hutton was laid off, and an open reporting position will go unfilled.
VVM executive associate editor Andy VanDeVoorde blames “the economic challenges that face us as we approach the fourth quarter.”
Hoffman says Phoenix-based VVM dictated specific cuts, which came as a surprise to him. After Erin Carlyle resigned two weeks ago, Hoffman recruited her replacement from St. Louis, but when the retrenchment came down, the new reporter was rerouted to the chain’s Denver paper.
The big question for readers is how much coverage will be hurt. CP’s news staff is much smaller than five years ago, but position-wise, has been steady for several months. However, reporters face the challenge of 10 print covers a year on top of regular blogging as VVM turns its focus to the web. With Carlyle’s position axed, there will be less back-up for the three news staffers who regularly write features (Andy Mannix, Jessica Lussenhop and Greg Pratt; a fourth staffer, Mike Mullen, fills the Blotter blog).
Hoffman says a bigger freelance budget will let him buy the 10 print covers, but not the blogging. He insists remaining writers won’t be expected to hit the web more often: “Their responsibilities will be the same.”
As for Hutton, Hoffman says “Rachel was doing a great job,” but CP has been “particularly hard-hit” in the restaurant advertising category.
“I was very reliant on her to take care of the local food scene, in the same way [music editor] Andrea Swensson has her pulse on the music scene,” he says. “I’m hoping this is a temporary loss, and we will eventually be able to get someone else in that role at a lesser rate. … We’re still deeply committed to the local food community.”
City Pages will now have to demonstrate that commitment with freelancers doing weekly features and filling the “Hot Dish” blog. The alt-weekly already had a tough assignment competing with the likes of CP alum and Minnesota Monthly colossus Dara Moskowitz Grumdahl, the Strib’s Rick Nelson, and niche dynamos Heavy Table. In a sales sense, canning a “name” food writer may turn out to be VVM eating its seed corn.
[Conflict of interest note: I’m a volunteer board member of the Kingfield and Fulton farmers markets; Hutton has written about us often, served as a volunteer judge for our bake-offs and, I suspect, had a hand in naming Kingfield “Best Farmers Market” this year.]
Nationally, CP is not the only VVM paper getting nailed; the Dallas Observer cut its sportswriter Monday. Hoffman says he has heard reductions at other papers are coming, with a 5 percent chain-wide cutback mentioned. VanDeVoorde says only, “I have nothing to offer regarding possible cuts in other VVM markets.”