Magazine article Editor & Publisher

Nashville Scene a Bit Blurry over Move to Chain Ownership

Magazine article Editor & Publisher

Nashville Scene a Bit Blurry over Move to Chain Ownership

Article excerpt

The Nashville Scene has been a happy little place. The weekly's writers hound local institutions, guided by owners with an idealistic view of alternative journalism. Not surprisingly, the news of a deal that would make the locally owned paper part of a national chain created unease.

"We are a little concerned, I guess, because we all feel we have a good deal here," said Matt Pulle, the paper's media columnist. "We have more to lose by being part of a big chain."

The chain, of course, is Village Voice Media, the name for the new organization that will own the Scene and Leonard Stern's six alternative newspapers. Stern Publishing's papers are being sold to a group of investors, who plan to use them as a platform for further acquisitions.

In Nashville, the poster child for "chain" is publishing giant Gannett Co. Inc., which owns the daily Tennessean and often is derided by the Scene as formulaic.

What will be lost as a result of Village Voice Media's expansion, if anything, isn't clear. In one scenario, the umbrella company would look like a Gannett - on a smaller scale, of course. Nonsense, say the new owners, who promise the papers will continue to be locally run and keep their irreverent spirit.

In fact, the investors, led by the private equity group of Weiss, Peck & Greer, are likely to stay out of the operations side, and the papers will be run by existing management, including respected journalists who will have a stake in the company.

"They're silent money," Richard Karpel, executive director of the Association of Alternative Newsweeklies, said of the new owners. "I don't see them getting too involved."

Fears aside, there's little evidence that group ownership has hurt alternative weeklies, said Abe Peck, chair of the magazine program and former associate dean at Northwestern University's Medill School of Journalism, who sees some of the best investigative work coming out of group-owned papers. Therein lies the paradox, he said.

"People are concerned about consolidation of alternative press," said Peck, who has worked at mainstream and alternative papers in Chicago and as an editor at Rolling Stone. "At the same time, some of the better papers are part of these chains."

That's because chains come with resources that can improve papers or save erstwhile independents from untimely deaths, he said. …

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