Star Tribune buys City Pages; Vita.mn to cease publication

The Star Tribune will halt publication of its entertainment weekly, Vita.mn.

EVAN RAMSTAD
Updated 5/6/2015

Star Tribune Media Co. is buying City Pages LLC, the biggest alternative news and entertainment weekly in the Twin Cities, from Voice Media Co., the companies said Wednesday.

Terms were not disclosed, though Star Tribune Media said the purchase will be financed via its operating cash flow. City Pages will continue to run independently of Star Tribune Media’s other publication, the Minneapolis Star Tribune newspaper and website, the firms said.

The Star Tribune will stop publishing Vita.mn, a website and weekly tabloid that refashioned its entertainment coverage into a format that competed with City Pages for readers and advertisers.

City Pages publisher Mary Erickson and editor Pete Kotz will continue to lead its staff of 37 people.

“We have tremendous respect for the loyal, passionate audience and market position that the talented City Pages staff has built through hard work over many years,” Mike Klingensmith, chief executive of Star Tribune Media and publisher of the Star Tribune, said in a statement. “We think the publication and its digital properties can capitalize on being part of a larger, local media company to create an even stronger City Pages.”

As a result of the deal, City Pages news employees will come under the representation of the Minnesota Newspaper and Communications Guild, which also covers journalists at the Star Tribune and St. Paul Pioneer Press.

The publication, which like many alternative weeklies concentrates on urban coverage, arts and entertainment and topics of interest to younger readers, is distributed for free on newsstands and at bars and restaurants around the Twin Cities. Its website is updated more frequently.

With the closing of Vita.mn, City Pages is the last entertainment-focused weekly in the metro area. In recent years, competitors such as the Rake, Metromix and the local version of the Onion, ceased publishing.

The transaction is the latest step by Denver-based Voice Media to move on from the portfolio of alternative weeklies, some of which it has owned since the 1990s.

The firm in January hired consultants to explore strategic options, including the sale of its publications, which include the Village Voice in New York, New Times in Phoenix and the Dallas Observer. In March, it sold Riverfront Times, the alternative weekly in St. Louis, to Euclid Media Group, a Cleveland firm that owns weeklies in Cleveland, Detroit, San Antonio and Orlando.

For Star Tribune Media, the acquisition adds a profitable publication with a strong advertising base. Both publications cover civic, political and entertainment developments in Minnesota, though with a different focus, style and audience.

City Pages’ readership skews younger and more female than the Star Tribune’s. The publication says it reaches 361,000 readers a month in print and records 1.3 million unique visits a month to its website.

“The acquisition will give us a larger footprint in our home market and allow us to grow our audience and our advertising revenue,” said Steve Yaeger, vice president of marketing for Star Tribune.

Star Tribune Media, after experiencing a bankruptcy restructuring in 2009 and revenue declines for about a decade, has seen marginal revenue growth and operating profits in the last two years. The company last year was acquired by Mankato businessman Glen Taylor, who also owns Taylor Corp. and the Timberwolves and Lynx pro basketball teams.

City Pages began in 1979 as a music-oriented publication called Sweet Potato. It was renamed City Pages in 1981 when it became a news and entertainment weekly. For years, its main rival was Twin Cities Reader, a weekly that started in 1976.

In 1997, Stern Publishing, a New York firm that owned the Village Voice, bought both Twin Cities weeklies and closed the Reader. Stern in 2000 sold the publication, along with the Voice and several others, to a money management firm that formed them into a company called Village Voice Media.

Five years later, Village Voice Media combined with another large group of alternative weeklies, led by Phoenix-based New Times. In 2012, the firm was split in two, separating the weeklies from a profitable website they had spawned called backpage.com. The website created controversy for the publications because of its reliance on sex-related advertising.

Like other print publications, alternative weeklies have grappled with declining print advertising while incurring the cost of investing in digital publishing via the web and mobile devices. City Pages still accepts some advertising that the Star Tribune doesn’t, something that executives will have to contend with after the transaction closes.

“As part of the Star Tribune Media Company, they’ll continue to accept advertising from licensed commercial businesses,” Yaeger said. “However, we’ll exercise our right to review advertising policies and standards and we typically don’t accept advertising from unlicensed businesses, such as escort services and others.”

Star Tribune executives say they’ll keep their hands off City Pages’ coverage of the Twin Cities, including of the Star Tribune, which is sometimes a target of the weekly’s reporting.

“City Pages will retain its independent editorial voice,” Yaeger said. “I expect it will continue to cover what it deems important, including shining a light on other media from time to time.”

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