A seismic change hit local DC media Friday when Amy Austin left as publisher of Washington City Paper, where she’s worked 30 years. In a note she sent to staff Friday, Austin said shifts at SouthComm, which owns City Paper, have “led to some changes, including some leadership changes.”
Reached by phone, SouthComm President Chris Ferrell says City Paper isn’t alone among the company’s properties: “There are a couple places where we felt like we needed to make some changes.” Group publisher Eric Norwood will step into Austin’s job until a new publisher is found.
City Paper has been looking for a new editor since Mike Madden announced in March that he would leave for the Washington Post. “I think we’re getting close to an announcement there, but you’re gonna have to wait a few days,” Ferrell says.
The new editor will be someone “who understands DC first and foremost,” he says, “someone who really understands what an alt-weekly can mean for a city and someone who can develop the talent of the staff and continuously improve what they’re doing.” An alt needs to be “the leading voice for the culture of a city, whether that be in music, food, or the arts,” he says, adding that he also expects “real quality investigative work.”
Steve Cavendish, news editor of SouthComm’s Nashville Scene and the former editor of Nashville’s City Paper (which was a weekly, but not an alt-weekly, and which SouthComm closed in 2013) helped out with the editing of Washington City Paper‘s recent best-of issue; reached by phone he said he had not been appointed City Paper‘s new editor.
As for the next publisher, Ferrell says, it will be someone who can help teams all across the property be successful and has “a real vision for what that paper can be on the market.” Under Austin, City Paper worked hard at rebounding from the devastation wrought by a collapse in print advertising, adding money-making events like the Crafty Bastards festival.
Alt-weeklies as a sector have been particularly hard hit by the upheaval of the print media business as a whole. Circulation has fallen at many of the big-city alt-weeklies, and some big papers like the Boston Phoenix have closed. Alts in some smaller markets, though, have held on and even prospered.
“DC is a fabulous city with a lot going on, and we just want to make sure that City Paper is positioned to be a part of it,” Ferrell says. “We’ve got some things to work on. It’s a great paper with a good history and a really good staff.” Ferrell wouldn’t say what plans SouthComm had for increasing revenue at the paper beyond what it’s doing now, including “signature events” and growing the digital ad network City Paper built under Austin.
I was City Paper’s managing editor from 2006-2010, and Washingtonian Editor Mike Schaffer was City Paper’s editor from 2010-2012.