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City Pages lays off news reporter Gregory Pratt

A year ago, the local alt-weekly had four staff news reporters writing features; now it will have two plus a short-term “fellow.”

How low can City Pages go?

Tuesday, the local alt-weekly laid off news reporter Gregory Pratt, leaving just two full-time news feature writers, Andy Mannix and recent hire Erika Wolf. A year ago, CP had four such writers.

Given the backdrop of the Onion Twin Cities ending print publication a few weeks ago, the obvious question is whether the pulp City Pages is long for this world. Editor Kevin Hoffman — while not minimizing the layoff — says CP remains profitable and “will be there long into the future, put out a print edition, and get scoops online.”

For now, Hoffman will get more covers from music editor Reed Fischer (“I told him he’ll do more cover stories this year than most music editors do in three”) and a Village Voice Media “fellow” (fresh-out-of-school writers who usually work on six month contracts). The editor also says there’s a bump in freelance money that could stretch to fill about half of Pratt’s 10 annual cover stories.

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“We’ll take pitches from the community to write cover stories,” Hoffman says.

While there are good freelancers out there and CP has gotten fine work even after last summer’s layoffs, the risk is shallowness — less reporting time per story, less willingness to tackle complex topics in favor of more straightforward human interest or true crime.

Hoffman says he’ll try to protect Mannix’s and Wolf’s feature reporting time, adding, “I’m not one these people who says you can do more with less.”

Choosing Pratt for the ax seems odd because he was an especially aggressive newshound, getting scoops in the Michael Brodkorb-Amy Koch saga, detailing a million-dollar KSTP-TV screw-up, and explaining immigrant abuse

Hoffman says Pratt, a former fellow who just celebrated his one-year anniversary, was picked because he was the lowest-paid staff writer (even though that would seem to be protective when a non-union paper is trying to save money). Wolf, a former daily staffer and fashion magazine writer who replaced Jessica Lussenhop this summer, appearently came in at a higher price after getting a Columbia Journalism School master’s.

Last time CP swung the ax, other Village Voice papers also cut; I’ve heard that is happening but Hoffman said, “I probably shouldn’t speak for anyone else. … City Pages is not the only paper going through a difficult time in the industry. It’s a national issue, and we’re getting our share of hurt.”