by Kyle Swenson
Update: Last night, the Disptach's Phil Pikelny shot Scene an email back with the following comment about the sale.
"There are no changes contemplated for any of the acquired properties in the near future. In fact, Roy Biondi will remain the Group Publisher for The Other Paper so The Other Paper will retain its current voice.
"Working with Roy, executives at The Dispatch Printing Company will assess the opportunities for all of the publications we acquired and will do what we feel is in the best interests of our readers and advertisers."
On a surface drive-by, this news coming out of Columbus might only appeal to media geeks, those ink fingered few of the shrinking tribe who can talk the ins and outs of sunshine law but don't know anything about a 401K. But really, once you consider how the following situation ripples out, what it signifies for the future of the state's professional sources of journalism, then this is something everyone should tune in for.
The Other Paper, Columbus' alt-weekly, was purchased yesterday by the parent company of the city's only daily paper, the Columbus Dispatch, according to Columbus Business First. The buy was part of a Dispatch Printing Co. shopping spree that included Columbus Monthly magazine and a chain of community weeklies. The final price tag was not released.
The initial report says employees were told Tuesday afternoon. So far, the only change on the wind is that the alt's offices will be moved in April to the Dispatch's locations. This morning, Scene reached out to the Other Paper's Editor Eric Lyttle about whether he has any idea how the sale could potentially affect the paper's coverage.
“We simply don't know the answers to your questions just yet,” Lyttle said in an email to Scene. “The announcement was made yesterday afternoon and we haven't had the opportunity to sit down and discuss strategy moving forward.” Lyttle provided Scene with a contact at the Dispatch who might have an idea of the next move. We haven't heard back yet, but we'll update if necessary.
Alt-weeklies and dailies often live bound in mutual tension, and this sale makes strange bedfellows. About ten years ago, it wasn't uncommon for major dailies with piss-poor Friday sections to solve the problem by purchasing the local alt-weekly, swallowing up the entertainment content and tossing the news overboard. Some dailies opted to start up their own weeklies, known dismissively in the biz as “faux-alternatives.” The Dispatch went with a third option in 2006 in order to attach a younger crowd when they purchased Columbus Alive, a breezy read soaked with entertainment and arts coverage.
But the Other Paper was always a harder-edged option around town, both in tone and in the news stories they went after. Which is why the sale is interesting.
One of the things the weekly did best was stick fingers in the eye of the Dispatch and their corporate boss. The Dispatch Printing Co., owned by the prestigious Wolfe family, has interests that reach beyond journalism, including real estate and even a share in the NHL Blue Jackets. In a number of well-researched articles that cut through spin and juggled a difficult issue, the Other Paper bagged on the Dispatch for a potential conflict of interest when the parent company openly went to battle with casino developer Penn National over the location of the city's new gambling operation.
Now, we're not saying that the sale will end such work, and this isn't meant as an ode to a fellow weekly. But any time a voice of criticism is purchased by one of the frequent targets of that criticism, everyone in the biz gets a little edgy about how things will play out. The truth of today's media landscape is that distinct voices in the game are more and more put under larger umbrellas. Hopefully, the Other Paper will continue to do the good work they've been doing, regardless of who pays to keep the lights on.