Alternative Media Companies to Merge

Village Voice Media and New Times Media announce a merger worth an estimated $400 million. New Times Media already owns 11 alternative newspapers, while the Village Voice owns six. Some critics fear the merger will lead to a weakening of the alternative press in the United States.

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ROBERT SIEGEL, host:

Today two giants of the alternative press, if that's not an oxymoron, announced that they will merge. Together Village Voice Media and New Times Media control 17 alternative newspapers around the country, including three weeklies, such as LA Weekly and the Dallas Observer and, of course, The Village Voice. The combined companies could be worth an estimated $400 million, and NPR's Neda Ulaby reports there is more than money at stake.

NEDA ULABY reporting:

What the New Times and Village Voice newspapers share is irreverent investigative reporting, music reviews, local arts coverage and snarky sex columns. But writer Andrew O'Hare says of all the alternative newspapers in the United States, The Village Voice has had a special place.

Mr. ANDREW O'HARE (Writer): It was a very political paper very much driven by opinionated cultural coverage and opinionated political coverage and, really, about sticking a thumb in the eye of those in power.

ULABY: This week The Village Voice celebrates 50 years of eye-sticking, but the newspaper's path has been occasionally rough. It's gone through multiple owners over the years and in 1996 was forced to stop charging for issues after the emergence of free competitors. Now Voice CEO David Schneiderman says the paper has lost a significant source of income, classified ads, to the Web site craigslist.

Mr. DAVID SCHNEIDERMAN (CEO, The Village Voice): For The Village Voice, it has sucked a lot of money out of our revenue base and, therefore, our profits.

ULABY: And that's not just true at The Voice but at alternative newspapers around the country. Schneiderman says he hopes the new company can compete more successfully with craigslist through an online classified project called backpage.com. New Times executive editor Michael Lacey says after the merger, the chain's mergers can pool resources.

Mr. MICHAEL LACEY (Executive Editor, New Times Media): Every single acquisition that we've ever had, we have invested more money into the editorial, into writers and editors.

ULABY: But writer Andrew O'Hare is hardly thrilled at the prospect of New Times Media getting bigger.

Mr. O'HARE: I do think it's become like a McDonald's or a Starbucks situation, where this one operation really dominates everything.

ULABY: It should be noted that O'Hare lost his job at the Bay area's SF Weekly newspaper when New Times Media bought it. But he's just one of the company's voracious critics who fear this merger may weaken the alternative press. Voice CEO David Schneiderman.

Mr. SCHNEIDERMAN: I just don't buy that for the clear reason that the journalism this company does and the journalism that New Times does is anti-establishment. We both get great glee and enjoyment at poking our finger in the eye of the establishment.

ULABY: Schneiderman says The Voice's value comes from its resolutely left content, and that's been understood even by a former owner named Rupert Murdoch. He currently owns FOX News.

Mr. SCHNEIDERMAN: And he once said to me, `I can't figure out how a bunch of Communists can run a newspaper successfully.'

ULABY: Schneiderman says the merger depends on approval from the Justice Department, which blocked a previous deal between the two companies regarding newspapers in Ohio and California. New Times executive editor Michael Lacey is well aware of the company's bad rap in certain circles, but he insists the company will continue to take a contrarian point of view, no matter what the issue and no matter whose eyes may be at risk of poking. Neda Ulaby, NPR News.

MELISSA BLOCK (Host): This is NPR, National Public Radio.

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