The Baltimore Sun Media Group plans to close City Paper later this year. No official end date has been announced for the alt-weekly, now in its 40th year.
"Like many alternative weeklies across the country, declining ad revenue at City Paper continues to be a challenge," BSMG's director of marketing, Renee Mutchnik, said in a statement. "It became clear to us this past fall that we would cease publishing City Paper sometime in 2017. Details about the closing date are still being discussed. This is a difficult decision and we are mindful of how it affects our employees, the readers and advertisers."
Editorial staffers found out about the news in June during a meeting with senior vice president Tim Thomas, who cited declining ad revenues and future projections for those numbers as reasons for the closure.
City Paper editor Brandon Soderberg offered the following: "This is Brandon Soderberg, City Paper editor reporting live from the deck of the Titanic. Yes, we're being closed by BSMG/Tronc/and so on. We were told this news last month and there isn't a clear date but what we've been told is no later than the end of the year. We were trying to hold off announcing it because, well, it's very sad, but also because I'm not sure about how this is all going to play out and I'm half-convinced this won't be the end of the paper and someone will swoop in and buy us."
The Sun bought the paper from Times-Shamrock Communications, which had owned the paper for more than two dozen years, in early 2014. In an announcement of the purchase, BSMG's then-publisher, president, and CEO Tim Ryan praised City Paper's independent streak.
"We want the paper to remain a valued alternative, independent voice in Baltimore," he said in a statement. "That's what made it attractive to us — it's adding a unique population of readers to our overall audience."
Not long after, BSMG also purchased The Capital, Carroll County Times, and other local properties.
Like many media organizations big and small, BSMG has struggled with declines in print advertising and making up for those losses with online revenue. In 2016, along with other papers such as the Chicago Tribune and Los Angeles Times, The Sun and its stable of papers endured their parent company's transition from Tribune to tronc.
Founded in 1977 by Russ Smith and Alan Hirsch, City Paper built an audience with voice, investigative reporting, and in-depth coverage of the city's arts, music, and theater. The paper has been celebrating its 40th anniversary by reprinting older stories, and with a photo issue highlighting the paper's long history and unique style.
In his remarks, Soderberg stressed the good work CP has been doing.
"Obviously this sucks. I think there is a lot of potential in this paper and in the alternative press, and not only to report the way we do, which is not how anybody else in this city is really reporting, but also to make money and strengthen the brand, as they say. So for me it's a disappointment because I had a lot of ideas for the paper, editorially, and when it came to re-imagining the paper, and the staff has been doing great work too. You know, our page views had been jumping up significantly of late, our unique visitors even more so. We won a bunch of MDDDC Awards this year, we're finalists for two AAN awards—we were cooking. I mean, I'd encourage anyone to look at our cover stories over the past few months especially: Baynard Woods' Tyree Woodson piece, Kenny Breckenridge's heroin addict piece, the Music Issue, the Queer Issue, Lisa Snowden-McCray's Turner Station piece, Reginald Thomas II's Poly basketball photo series, Rebekah Kirkman's Sondheim piece this week, Maura Callahan and Rebekah's Bell Foundry piece, and on and on. But that's not enough apparently."
And Soderberg focused on what Baltimore loses without City Paper.
"A city without a paper like City Paper is a lesser city. I'm not sure where the stories we write and where the people you meet in those stories show up if we're not around. Without us, you will have one less voice—one that's skeptical and analytical and out there actually," he said. "Look, Trump's the president, this city's a goddamned mess, Pugh's off to a terrible start, and the city is going to lose its progressive media voices. Marc Steiner's about to end his show and we're basically dead in the water. For now, again like on the Titanic, we plan on holding on and doing great work until the end, and I'd also say to anyone out there who likes what we do and wants to keep it around: Buy us!"