It’s Day Two for Italian Stallion Albie Del Favero at the 5-year-old City Paper. After 18 months of midlife sabbatical following his retirement from the Scene—during which he rode his bike, traveled, lost untold pounds and bought hip, tricked-out glasses—he’s the new publisher at the paper across town. CP, which sources say has lost nearly $11 million during its brief life, now has a solid leadership team: newly hired executive editor Clint Brewer and, now, the notoriously temperamental, three-hole-punch-throwing Del Favero, who, with partner Bruce Dobie, turned the Scene from an embarrassing little shopper more than 15 years ago into one of the most successful altweeklies in the country.
He assumes a news product obsessed with the niggly neighborhood stories that are often overlooked but of genuine interest to Nashville readers; a sales side that has taken a back seat to the deep edit bench; and a distribution model that is the envy of free papers everywhere. Whereas Scene readers are much more likely to make $100,000 or more a year, to travel, to buy jewelry, independent media audits show that The City Paper owns the over-75, Wal-Mart-shopping, low-income, RV-ownership crowd (among others, obviously).
At any rate, here’s what our former leader—who, by the way, still holds some ownership interest in the Scene’s parent company—has to say about his new gig.
Q: Tell me about why you decided to go over to The City Paper.
A: I kind of missed the business, I definitely missed the business, and I like challenges…. I think they just did a really good job of selling me on the potential. And after meeting the Thompsons, the owners [of Thompson Machine fame], they’re just really committed to it.
Q: I realize this is only your second day, but what do you think you’ll try to do with the paper in terms of positioning it as a successful business model?
A: I haven’t figured that out yet.
As I’ve spoken with the paper’s consultant, Jim McDonald, and interim publisher Jim Ezzell, among others, they’ve characterized 2006 as the turnaround year when the paper would finally reach profitability. Do you think that’s possible?
Too early to tell.
Too early to tell?
Too early to tell.
In terms of an ideological slant, can we expect the paper to be left, right, middle, what?
I think you can expect us to be moderately right.
Because that’s the Thompson family’s leaning?
Yes, I think that has a lot to do with it. And in terms of positioning the paper, that makes a lot of sense for us.
Do you still have ownership in VVM [Village Voice Media—the company that owns the Nashville Scene]?
So, in a way, you’re competing against yourself?
Well, I think I’ve done a really good job of getting everybody over [at the Scene] to think of The City Paper as competition, but the reality is I don’t think we’re that much competition with you guys. I mean, we are a general interest newspaper, five days a week. You guys are very much a niche-oriented product with a more defined target audience. Yeah, we’re both taking ad dollars out of the market, but I’m not going to be out selling against the Scene, I’m going to be selling against The Tennessean.
I’m kind of naïve about these things, but…
You’re not naïve about anything, Liz….
No, really, did you have to talk to the board of directors from VVM about this kind of thing?
No. I don’t even get financial statements from VVM anymore, nor do I want to now that I’m in this position.
So, you’re saying it’s kind of like a blind interest at this point?
Oh yeah. It’s really been that way—well, certainly ever since I left—but arguably since 2000 [when Del Favero and editor Bruce Dobie sold the paper to VVM]. I mean, I had a board seat for a few years, but when we gave up control, we essentially were more employees than we were shareholders.
Did you have a non-compete for a while?
And that ran out?
It ran out, and I don’t think The City Paper would qualify as competition the way the non-compete was worded.
Characterize how much ownership you have in VVM.
You know…. I can tell you this: it is miniscule, particularly since the merger with New Times [earlier this year]. It is completely insignificant, less than 1 percent.
You and Bruce [Dobie] are still our landlords, right?
Do you think that will change? Let’s say you’re a principal of the company that owns us and the former Scene publisher took a publisher job at The City Paper and he’s the Scene’s landlord. Would you renew the lease? And do you think we will?
I wouldn’t base my decision solely on who my landlord was, no. If the rent was attractive and everything else was equal, I wouldn’t care. But I don’t know. You guys print at The Tennessean and you pay them four or five times what you pay me in rent, so it’s not like there's not a precedent for this type of thing.
Do you have at least an idea of what The City Paper wants to be? They used to say that they wanted the paper to be a 20-minute quick read…?
And that hasn’t changed…. But at this point I’m still trying to figure out where the coffee is.
Is it good coffee?
You don’t have a trade with Bongo like we do?
No, but I tell you what I do have.
I got covered parking, man. I’m 52 years old, and it’s the first job I’ve ever had with covered parking.
Hey, by the way, thank you for the shower. I use the Taj Mahal shower [that Del Favero had installed] almost every day now.
I wish we had one. See, you know, you leave that building, and you might not have that shower.
Yeah, but the rest of it is a dump. Really, Albie.
Yeah, but do you know what we’re doing? New Times doesn’t do things shabbily. I’ve had discussions with them already about, you know, us making a big investment in the building in exchange for a renewed lease. It is a dump…but that's largely a result of you guys being such pigs!