News & Politics

Washington City Paper Staff’s Salaries Cut By 40 Percent as Owner Struggles to Find Buyer

Staff expect their pay to drop below $30,000 a year, which a source describes as "unlivable."

Employees of Washington City Paper were told Monday that their salaries will be reduced 40 percent starting January 1 as SouthComm, the company that owns the alt-weekly newspaper, continues to look for a buyer to take over the 36-year-old publication. The pay cut was first reported by WRC’s Mark Segraves, and confirmed to Washingtonian by a source familiar with the conference call in which SouthComm’s chief financial officer, Bob Mahoney, relayed the news.

The move is likely to drop most editorial salaries at City Paper below $30,000 per year, which a source described as an “unlivable” figure. And it’s guaranteed to destroy morale even more inside the paper, which has been up for sale since October. One potential buyer, conservative political commentator Armstrong Williams, announced last week he will not be acquiring the publication. (A Washington Post story about Williams’s potential offer suggested he might have remade the typically anti-establishment City Paper as a glossy tabloid full of soft features on Trump administration figures; the idea was roundly panned by the alt-weekly’s readers.)

SouthComm, based in Nashville, purchased City Paper in 2012 from a hedge fund, Atalaya Capital Management, which wound up owning City Paper and several other alt-weeklies after the collapse of Creative Loafing Media. Under its current ownership, City Paper has continued to cut costs, trim payroll, and put out smaller and smaller newspapers, with recent issues coming in at just 36 pages. One bright spot has been the paper’s annual Crafty Bastards fair, which has grown large enough to move to Nationals Park; SouthComm has cloned the festival in other markets.

But it appears SouthComm has hit a rough spot across its publishing businesses. In November, it laid off 25 percent of the editorial staff at the Nashville Scene, including the editor, Steve Cavendish, who had previously been the editor of City Paper. Its chief executive, Chris Ferrell, also left the company that month.

The City Paper news lands at the end of another crummy cycle for the ailing alt-weekly sector. Along with the pay cuts at City Paper and layoffs at the Scene, the industry has also had to deal this year with New York’s venerable Village Voice stopping its print edition, and the sale of the LA Weekly, which was purchased by a shadowy group of Southern California investors who kicked off their ownership by firing nearly the entire editorial staff.

Staff Writer

Benjamin Freed joined Washingtonian in August 2013 and covers politics, business, and media. He was previously the editor of DCist and has also written for Washington City Paper, the New York Times, the New Republic, Slate, and BuzzFeed. He lives in Adams Morgan.