Bankruptcy, Exodus at Creative Loafing Magazine (UPDATE 2)

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andisheh(APN) ATLANTA — Creative Loafing magazine in Atlanta is in distress as its parent company is making its way through bankruptcy proceedings; Editor Ken Edelstein was fired yesterday, November 24, 2008; and now Senior Writer Andisheh Nouraee has also quit.

EDELSTEIN FIRED, NOURAEE QUITS

Nouraee put in his two weeks notice and his last day will be December 05, 2008, he told Atlanta Progressive News.

Nouraee hopes to continue writing his column, Don’t Panic, for Creative Loafing, which is also syndicated by some of CL’s sister papers as well as the Free Times in Columbia, South Carolina. He also recently signed a book deal for a civics and history book geared for teenagers, he said.

His quitting will leave a staff of three news reporters, including Mara Shalhoup, the only remaining Senior Writer; Thomas Wheatley, a new Staff Writer; and Scott Henry, a Staff Writer, Nouraee said.

The exit of Edelstein and Nouraee follows several layoffs in the previous months, including Scott Freeman, Senior News Editor; and David Lee Simmons, a Senior Writer. Freeman still blogs for CL. Columnist Hollis Gillespie left CL for Atlanta Magazine, and copy editor Russell McLendon left for Mother Nature Network as well, in recent weeks.

As exclusively reported by APN about one year ago, former CL editor, John Sugg, left the paper to work with PR firm Alisias, which among other things, has orchestrated the PR campaign for the Atlanta Housing Authority’s mass evictions and demolitions of public housing.

“Yesterday, Ken was fired in the morning and it was very distressing personally and professionally because… he’s the pillar of the newsroom and he’s also our friend,” Nouraee told APN.

“Ken’s laptop was taken. I was there and it was painful to watch,” Nouraee said.

“I handed in my resignation later that afternoon,” Nouraee said. Edelstein’s firing “factored into my decision but it was not the sole reason. The things that make me not want to work full-time at Creative Loafing are the same things that got Ken fired.”

“I was not in the meeting that appears to have precipitated the firing. I don’t know exactly what was said. Budget cuts and Ken’s resistance was a flashpoint of contention in that particular meeting,” Nouraee said.

“The editorial staff and news staff are too small to do their job. People at the paper are dedicated to putting out a good newspaper with reporting, not [relying on] other people’s reporting,” Nouraee said.

“Last week, we had five [news staffers] and we couldn’t do that,” Nouraee said, adding in two weeks they’ll be down to three.

The current print edition of CL contains 96 pages, but only one full-length news story, “No God for You!,” a story about limits on sex offenders to attend places of worship in Georgia. The remaining pages contain advertisements, a best of Fresh Loaf blog section, See and Do, the Blotter, Arts and Entertainment, and a special section on inexpensive holiday season activities.

“I do think people notice. I think there are people who never read news who read [CL] and people who never go to concerts. But it was all there in print and that’s diminishing,” Nouraee said.

“Last year, we were taking 4 to 6 weeks to do a cover story. We’d do them in rotation, and you can’t go 6 weeks rotating with 2 or 3 people,” Nouraee said, adding it’s “almost impossible to do a long-form story and short form stories.”

Nouraee is concerned about the state of independent media, particularly in Atlanta.

“I wish there was more of it. I don’t know what has to be in place in a city to nurture independent voices. Unfortunately a lot of bloggers… they can be productive, but they’re not focused on social and economic issues,” Nouraee said.

“I’m concerned as is everybody who follows journalism. The industry is struggling but it’s not being replaced by something adequate,” Nouraee said.

Although Nouraee notes he’s a fan of Atlanta Progressive News.

“I’m a regular reader. I’m a fan. I wish it was more widely read than it is,” Nouraee said.

BANKRUPTCY COULD END EASON ERA

Creative Loafing filed a petition for Chapter 11 bankruptcy relief for its six newspapers across the US on September 29, 2008, according to court documents obtained by Atlanta Progressive News, because it lost the ability to service its debt payments to BIA Digital Partners and Atalaya.

CL’s other papers are in Washington, DC; Chicago, Illinois; Charlotte, North Carolina; Sarasota, Florida; and Tampa, Florida.

It is possible that Ben Eason, son of CL’s founder, Deborah Eason, will lose his stake in the company to Creative Loafing’s creditors. If so, that would mean the end of Eason influence over the publication.

In 2000, Deborah Eason sold Creative Loafing, Inc., to an investment group led by her children–Ben, Jenny, and Taylor–and 25% shareholder, Cox Enterprises, which owns The Atlanta Journal-Constitution and other outlets.

In an interesting twist of events, Cox launched Access Atlanta in 2003, which was in print but is now only online. When CL argued that Cox had stolen its business model, the Easons purchased back the stake from Cox at a loss in 2004.

Deborah Eason went on to launch an independent newspaper, The Story, which, as exclusively reported by APN, ended print circulation in April 2007.

Ben Eason had put up his stake in CL as collateral in July 2007, when he borrowed $40 million from BIA Digital Partners and a company which sold its interest to Atalaya, in order to finance his purchase of the Chicago Reader and Washington City Paper, documents show.

Eason also signed over the rights to CL’s bank accounts at Wachovia to the creditors.

If the creditors take over the company now, Creative Loafing Atlanta and its sister papers will likely continue running under new ownership because the only way the creditors will get any money is if the papers keep printing at this point.

Incidentally, Atlanta Magazine also is now reporting that the Sunday Paper has offered to purchase CL’s Atlanta paper for $1 million. Patrick Best left Creative Loafing in 2004 along with advertising sales staff, to found SP.

CL and SP are similar in terms of being magazine-style but the editorial slant of CL is left-of-center while SP’s is more centrist. The proposed deal seems quite unlikely.

CORRECTION: An earlier version of this article stated Cox Communications bought a 25% stake in CL and owns the AJC. In fact, Cox Enterprises did all of this; Cox Communications is a subsidiary of Cox Enterprises with no involvement with the AJC, CL, or Access Atlanta.

CORRECTION: An earlier version of this article stated Russell McLendon, a copy editor for CL, was let go. According to an email from McLendon, he left to work for Mother Nature Network.

About the author:

Matthew Cardinale is the News Editor for The Atlanta Progressive News and is reachable is matthew@atlantaprogressivenews.com.

Revised syndication policy:

Our syndication policy was updated June 2007. For more information on how to syndicate Atlanta Progressive News content, please visit: http://www.atlantaprogressivenews.com/extras/syndicate.html

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