Paper Trail

“We don’t know exactly how this will play out.”

By Ron Cassie - April 2014

Can City Paper maintain its independence?

“We don’t know exactly how this will play out.”

By Ron Cassie - April 2014

-Photography by Justin Tsucalas

When The Sun announced its purchase of the alt-weekly City Paper in February, it felt like when a major label scoops up your favorite indie band.

Launched as City Squeeze in 1977 by Russ Smith, who grew up on Long Island reading the Village Voice, and Alan Hirsch, who worked with Smith at the Johns Hopkins News-Letter, the paper’s mission initially was to stay afloat. But it was also personal and City Paper’s modus operandi—harsh critiques of politicians, vigorous arts coverage, narrative storytelling—grew out of Smith’s contrarian nature. “I didn’t want my stories cut by editors who didn’t know what I was doing,” says Smith, who sold City Paper for about $4 million in 1987 and also launched the Washington City Paper and New York Press. “[I] wanted control of how a paper looked.”

Now that control is up in the air, as City Paper editor Evan Serpick (a former Baltimore senior editor) admits, “We don’t know exactly how this will play out.” The early signs are mixed. Staffers were at least buoyed by the fact that Jennifer Marsh—a Sun niche products director, who worked for decades at City Paper—has been named the publication’s general manager.

But, the first changes came a week after the deal’s announcement, as eight City Paper employees were fired, including creative director Joe MacLeod, who worked at the paper for 25 years. Then came a censorship blowup that played out in the national media after City Paper’s previous owners, Times-Shamrock, spiked several stories. Still, Tiffany Shackelford, executive director of the Association of Alternative Newsmedia, says all is not necessarily lost with the purchase of an alt-weekly by a city’s major daily. She points to the Chicago Reader, which was purchased by the Chicago Sun-Times and is thriving thanks to additional resources.

Smith, however, true to form, remains skeptical: “There’s no best-case scenario, save for the people who at least get to keep their jobs.”


You May Also Like

The Chatter

Q&A with Krishanti Vignarajah

Native Baltimorean and Michelle Obama's former director of policy talks about saving Let Girls Learn.

Food & Drink

You Are Here

Scenes from the Bel-Loc Diner and UnPub 7 at the Baltimore Convention Center.


The Chatter

Virtual Reality Used in Area Hospitals, Nonprofits

Local company Mindgrub is using new-age tech to help local organizations.

The Chatter

Cloud Computing Races to Glory at 142nd Preakness Stakes

Horse owned by Baltimore native eliminates possibility of a Triple Crown victory.

The Chatter

Five Things to Know Before Bingeing The Keepers on Netflix

Seven-part series examines nun's murder and sex abuse scandal at Archbishop Keough High School.

-Photography by Justin Tsucalas

Connect With Us

Most Read


Sister Act
Wicked Sisters moves into the McCabe’s spot.

The Great Outdoors
52 places to hike, bike, and paddle without leaving town.

Guiding Light
The long-awaited Harriet Tubman visitor center opens on the Eastern Shore.

Q&A with R. Eric Thomas
Catching up with the Baltimore native, Park School alum, and Elle.com columnist.

Holding Court
Asian Court gets a new address in Ellicott City.