After publishing for 34 years, Philadelphia City Paper will print its last issue next week.
The end of the city’s primary alternative weekly paper comes just as free weeklies around the country struggle to survive in the face of declining advertising dollars and an aging readership. In recent years, alt-weeklies in Boston, Knoxville, Nashville and San Francisco have collapsed.
Philadelphia City Paper’s founding publisher Bruce Schimmel said at its height, City Paper had around 300,000 weekly readers with a staff of 50. Today, its circulation hovers at 50,000, with just eight staffers.
Despite operating with scant resources, Schimmel said, City Paper still offered a gutsy and sometimes uncivil perspective on Philadelphia not found in the pages of the city’s two major dailies.
But then advertisers began their migration away from newspapers.
“If anything was going to survive, they were,” Schimmel said. “But you have Google and you have Craigslist. And you cannot deliver an audience that will buy things cheaper.”
Alt-weeklies, Schimmel said, have an old tradition that let a certain style thrive.
“Norman Mailer distributed the first issues of the Village Voice, this was a place where ‘New Journalism’ came about, that is to say journalism with a voice, with a human voice,” he said.
David Folkenflik, NPR’s media correspondent, says the alt-weekly signature style largely has been appropriated by more mainstream publications.
“Alt-weeklies were created out of a sense that mainstream media of the time, especially newspapers, were clubby, establishment kinds of publications,” Folkenflik said.
“It stems from a tradition of saying, ‘We want to be less polite, we want to be a little less chummy, we want to not just singe, but occasionally burn. We want to challenge with tougher questions.
“‘We want to bring in voices and concerns that are seen as being beyond acceptable. Among the powers we hold accountable, are major media organizations themselves,'” he said.
City’s Paper’s corporate owner, which also owns the free Metro papers, said City’s Paper’s intellectual property rights are being sold to Philadelphia Weekly.
But City Paper staffers are not expecting to have jobs there, as they wrote in their goodbye note: “It’s unclear what will happen to our archives, but from what we’ve gathered, they’ll vanish along with us.”