Current Newspapers is being sued by Gannett over more than $180,000 in unpaid printing bills. The suit, which was filed in September in DC Superior Court, claims that the company hasn’t paid its printing bills since January 2016.
Gannett signed a contract with Current Newspapers in December 2014 to provide the publisher, which distributes five free weekly community newspapers in Northwest Washington, with “printing services on credit.” The Current‘s tab ballooned to as much as $264,754 in August 2015, according to court records. But since early 2016, the suit says, the company has had trouble paying down its debt. Gannett no longer prints the paper; the company closed its Springfield plant, which printed USA Today along with clients of its publishing-services division, at the end of 2015.
In a letter responding to Gannett, the Current‘s publisher, Davis Kennedy, wrote that the partial payment is evidence that “it is clear we have substantially reduced the amount owed since we were no longer able to use Gannett to print us.” But Kennedy’s letter also reveals other troubles the Current‘s been facing recently. The publication’s advertising director and other sales staff left the company in early 2016, an exodus Kennedy attributes for a severe drop-off in advertising revenues that left the Current unable to pay its bills or make back payments. Kennedy also writes that the Current cannot afford to hire lawyers to represent it in defending against Gannett’s lawsuit; the case, if it proceeds, will be conducted by a hearing commissioner rather than a judge and jury.
But Kennedy’s letter also claims that the Current is very slowly clawing its way back to financial health. He references David Ferrara, the company’s chief operating officer, for bringing back some of the departed advertising salespeople in consulting roles. Ferrara is also responsible for the Current finally launching an online edition this year. Still, the situation appears quite bleak: neither Ferrara or Kennedy have been able to take salaries in several months, and Current Newspapers listed assets just shy of $173,000 on its balance sheet at the end of 2016. Being ordered to pay the full sum owed to Gannett, Kennedy writes in his letter, would bankrupt the paper.
The Current, which just marked its 50th anniversary, is one of the last sources of community news in DC after the shuttering of DCist and Local News Now’s decisions to close HillNow.com and Borderstan. (Local News Now continues to publish ARLNow and Reston Now.) Kennedy’s letter suggests that 2018 could be better for Current Newspapers than 2017 has been, particularly through what the company expects will be more robust ad revenue thanks to next year’s citywide elections.
“In years past there has been considerable political advertising whenever there is a race for mayor and chair of the City Council, both of which will occur in 2018,” Kennedy writes.
The Current did enjoy a bit of a boost from the last mayoral election in 2014, when four of the eight candidates in the Democratic primary combined to spend more than $40,000 on ads in the weekly paper, according to records from the DC Office of Campaign Finance. Candidates for other offices, including attorney general and several DC Council seats, spent about another $17,000. (That did not include Council Chairman Phil Mendelson, who ran virtually unopposed.)
Kennedy and Ferrara did not respond to requests for comment.