Weekly merger rumors: true **

The New Times chain of weekly papers is taking over the Village Voice, LA Weekly, OC Weekly and three other papers to form a group of seventeen more-or-less alt weeklies. New Times CEO Jim Larkin will be CEO and Michael Lacey will be Executive Editor. The following email from Voice chief David Schneiderman was sent tonight to LA Weekly staffers by publisher Beth Sestanovich. The New York Times also has a story up saying that Village Voice editor Donald Forst will remain at the paper and report directly to Lacey; no word on LA Weekly editor Laurie Ochoa or the Orange County operation. Expect big clashes here in Los Angeles—New Times is non-union while LA Weekly staffers have union representation, and the editorial cultures are much different. If the merger is approved by the Department of Justice, New Times would have a presence in Los Angeles for the first time since closing its L.A. paper in a 2002 deal with the Village Voice that led to consent decree with the feds over antitrust violations.

** Updates: New information added above, plus links after the email to Howard Kurtz in the Washington Post, a Village Voice web story and the affected Seattle Weekly.

From: Beth Sestanovich
Date: Sun, 23 Oct 2005 20:22:26 -0700
To: LA Everyone
Subject: Merger Announcement from David Schneiderman

To: Everyone
From: David Schneiderman
Date: October 23, 2005

Sometimes, rumors turn out to be true.

Village Voice Media and New Times have agreed to a merger that willcreate an alternative media company with award-winning newspapers inseventeen cities in every region of the country. The new company will be called Village Voice Media. This is an exciting combination of two publishers with well-deserved reputations for fierce and independent journalism, strong management and immensely talented staffs.

New Times CEO Jim Larkin will be CEO of the new company and Michael Lacey will be Executive Editor. I will be President of the Internet division and will continue to serve on the Board of Directors. Our present investors will maintain their equity in the new entity and will sit on the reconstituted Board.

Over the last few years, I have come to know Jim and Michael, and I am confident that they will bring to Village Voice Media the same skill, passion and commitment to journalistic excellence that they have exhibited in the years they have built and run New Times. They take pride in their newspapers and staffs, and they invest in and support their journalists in both word and deed. Newspapers must constantly be looking for new and better ways to engage readers and serve advertisers. New Times will bring fresh approaches to our business and they will also learn from our successes.

Over twenty years ago when I was editor of the Voice, Rupert Murdoch was the improbable owner. It would be an understatement to say that we did not see eye to eye on most issues. He once said to me that he could not understand how a bunch of Communists could manage a paper so well. I responded that we had concluded that if we did a good job, we might live to publish another issue of the Voice. Ironically, when Leonard Stern acquired the Voice from Murdoch in 1985, many of us including me, viewed this with trepidation. Stern, however, turned out to be a great owner. I offer this history to acknowledge that though impending change creates uncertainty, more often than not it leads to positive results. In this case, I sincerely believe that you will come to see this merger as an opportunity to grow professionally as part of an even more dynamic company.

As for me, I am excited about the prospect of leading the effort to build a robust and successful web platform for the new company. The Internet will be a critical part of our future and it is essential that we use the talent and resources of the combined company to become important players in that world. My immediate goal is to grow our online audience by utilizing our existing resources, and to break new ground in delivering fresh and compelling content to an ever-expanding audience in any way they wish to receive it.

I am sure most of you are aware of the bizarre charge that this merger will mark the end of alternative journalism. Nothing could be farther from the truth. Both Village Voice Media and New Times have earned a reputation for producing first-rate journalism. Both companies support and encourage their journalists to expose corruption, hypocrisy and incompetence wherever they find it. It defies logic to assert that those traditions will be undermined or abandoned as a result of this merger. In fact, I fully expect them to be strengthened.

The New Times corporate team will have operational oversight of the papers, but that will not happen for a few months. In the meantime, our corporate group, Nick DiCarlo, Susan Meisel, Matt Brennan and Peter Shin will continue working through the transition. They have done extraordinary work for VVM and have been key contributors to the success of the company.

This transaction is subject to review by the Department of Justice, which could take some months to complete. So during this time, it will be business as usual. I expect you will have questions about the future. I will be in constant touch with the publishers and editors and will try to answer as many of your questions as possible. Now that the rumors have been put to rest, I expect us to get back to publishing great newspapers with a hopeful eye on an exciting future.

Howard Kurtz: "New Times will export its brand of 'desert libertarianism on the rocks, with sprigs of neocon politics,' writes Bruce Brugmann, publisher of the rival San Francisco Bay Guardian...'Perfectly good journalism is commercially viable,' Lacey says. 'You have to give them well-written, well-reported stories. We don't need focus groups. We knew damn well that good stories sell, not people doing raving opinion pieces about how outraged they are. Blogs have made it completely unnecessary to have alternative newspapers fulfilling that role.'" 9:35 pm

Village Voice story: "If the Justice Department approves the deal, the combined chain would encompass publications in 17 of the biggest markets. The DOJ is likely to take more than a cursory glance at the merger, since its last encounter with the chains was the consent decree it demanded after the two firms swore a sort-of noncompetition pact in the LA and Cleveland markets. Voice CEO David Schneiderman says the merger will probably take two to six months to gain a federal green light." 9:40 pm

Seattle Weekly: "Separately, the two chains are quite different, with VVM exercising almost no editorial influence from New York on the various papers. New Times is more centralized to varying degrees in both editorial approach and business practices." Monday 12:20 am

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