Fuzzy Math 

City Paper publisher looks toward profitability

City Paper publisher looks toward profitability

His paper still has more employees than ads, but City Paper publisher Brian Brown says that his start-up daily is on the verge of profitability.

In April, the former software executive had many observers chuckling when he told the Downtown Rotary Club that his fledgling paper would be in the black by late summer. Today, he says that the City Paper remains more or less on target and probably will be making money on a weekly basis within two months.

“I would say that we’ll be turning a profit by the end of September,” Brown says. “And if not then, then by October.”

Perhaps he meant the fall of 2002.

Two industry experts the Scene contacted doubt Brown’s rosy outlook, with one calling the publisher’s short-term projections “impossible.” The two, who regularly come into contact with the City Paper and prefer to remain anonymous, point to the dearth of display ads in the paper. In fact, the Monday edition of the City Paper had fewer than 20 display ads. Meanwhile, the masthead lists 24 employees. That’s not exactly an optimistic ratio. In addition, many of those ads are from nonprofits probably paying a cut advertising rate.

For that matter, many for-profits don’t pay full fare either. The paper, not even 10 months old, recently offered four ads for the price of one during a “back-to-school” sale. Brown defends the practice of giving away multiple ads, which he confirms he has done more than once.

“As you’re building customers, sometimes you have to build incentives to attract them to the newspaper,” he says. “You have to remember every customer we have is a new customer.”

Even the paper’s classified section, which appears relatively well-stocked, often offers three days of free advertising for any item worth less than $250. All of that is not to say that the City Paper will bury itself. In fact, one of the industry experts estimates that the paper may be losing only $10,000 a week, a relatively small loss for a paper so fresh off its inaugural press run. No one is saying the paper can’t turn the corner—it’s just not going to happen anytime soon, especially as a prolonged advertising slump is hitting virtually every newspaper in the country.

What matters for now is that Brown’s hardworking staff has managed to put out a consistently informative paper. The machinations of the local chapter of the Fraternal Order of Police, school director Pedro Garcia’s decision to shake up two major administrative posts, Watkins’ decision to ditch its controversial plans to move to the Richland Park neighborhood—those were all stories the City Paper had first. For sure, the daily, which claims a circulation of 15,000 to 20,000, rarely has the city buzzing with any groundbreaking stories, but it offers enough nuts-and-bolts reporting to give people a reason to pick it up.

If the paper continues the good work, ad sales may follow. But for now, Brown has to find middle ground between keeping his staff upbeat and maintaining his own credibility.

And my source is...

Speaking of the City Paper, staff writer Craig Boerner unwittingly committed one of the gravest errors in journalism—giving up a source. Boerner recently had a nice scoop about the Metro police officers who were involved, and later cleared, in the Hispanic abuse case. The officers had filed a private complaint against Kennetha Sawyers, the head of the police department’s Office of Professional Accountability. Sawyers is also an attorney; the complaint was filed with the state Board of Professional Responsibility, which monitors the behavior of attorneys licensed in Tennessee.

It is a violation of the Tennessee Supreme Court’s rules of confidentiality to make public an allegation of legal misconduct unless the Board of Professional Responsibility already has meted out discipline against the offending party. But Boerner nevertheless had a copy of the complaint—meaning that he needed to protect the identity of his informant, who was ostensibly violating the rules of the state’s highest court. Boerner tried to do that, except that when he faxed the complaint over to the police department for comment, he forgot to white-out the name of his source, which visibly appeared on the top of the fax page. We’ll do him a favor and not compound his error by outing his tipster any more. But suffice it to say that at least three people know the name of the no-longer-unknown source who leaked private information to a reporter.

Biz whiz

In a Tennessean story on Nashville Kats owner Mark Bloom’s plans for his team, reporters Chip Cirillo and Paul Kuharsky wrote that Bloom needed to sell because his “bosses at J.C. Bradford told him he can not remain a controlling ownership force in the team.” Actually, J.C. Bradford, the company, no longer exists. PaineWebber bought the financial services firm a year ago last June as reported earlier by The Tennessean. It was arguably the biggest business story in Nashville last year.

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