Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Creative Loafing Under New Management

Eleven months after Creative Loafing filed for bankruptcy, CEO Ben Eason has lost the business his family owned for over three decades. Just before noon, Judge Caryl E. Delano selected Atalaya -- a New York hedge fund and Creative Loafing's largest creditor -- as the "highest and best bid" in an equity auction that decided who would take control of the country's second largest alt-weekly chain.

After the judge's decision, Eason's entire family sat in the front row, looking straight ahead. They were joined by publishers of all six papers and some employees from the Tampa Creative Loafing. When the judge ended the hearing, Eason approached reporters smiling and joking.

"We thought it would play out this way," he said. "We were hoping the ruling could cut a new path for newspapers."

He also teased that he might start another publication.

"I've started three publications in my time," he said. "I'll start a fourth."

New owner Michael Bogdan of Atalaya said he planned to meet with all newspaper publishers -- possibly this week -- and bounce around ideas for the papers. "We're here for the long haul," he said.

So what does this mean for local Creative Loafing employees and readers?

First, Atalaya will move Tampa's office to another yet-to-be-named location (Ben Eason owns the newspaper's current building and will not renew the lease). The new owners also say there are no planned layoffs.

In addition to Bogdan, Creative Loafing's new board will consist of Jim O'Shea, a former L.A. Times editor who was fired in 2008 after criticizing the paper's publisher for cuts in the editorial room, and Michele Laven, director of integrated marketing for Clear Channel and former president and COO of New Times (now Village Voice Media). Richard Gilbert, former president of the Des Moines Register will be the new CEO.

All names seem to imply Atalaya is serious about reinvesting in the quality of Creative Loafing's newspapers and websites. And that is good news for Tampa Bay.

Full Disclosure: I worked at Creative Loafing Tampa from 2006-2009.
"I checked out Atalaya," he told me. "They seem like people serious about reinvesting in journalism. They know there's no value in this company cutting back — that's already happened. From my perspective they're looking at this very intelligently — they believe in investing in the industry. You can't keep taking things away from your readers and expect them to keep reading."

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